China’s Technological Superiority: Military-Civil Fusion Approach

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is implementing a “Military-Civil Fusion” (MCF) strategy to transform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the most technologically advanced military in the world. This strategy targets technologies such as quantum computing, semiconductors, 5G, nuclear technology, aerospace technology, gene editing, and artificial intelligence to achieve military dominance. While other nations have tried this strategy before, China’s MCF is expansive and institutionalized, exceeding previous efforts. China is likely to produce new weapons of mass destruction using this policy in the next decade, potentially threatening the US’ regional interests more than it already has.

Despite being in its early stages, the US recognizes MCF as a major concern for its interests in the Indo-Pacific. The US has accused China of corporate espionage and undermining American companies. AI, nuclear energy, and gene editing are at particular risk of these practices, with significant implications for PLA strategic dominance over the US.

Left unchecked, these practices could lead to the manufacture of weapons that shift how wars operate in the future. AI could enhance defense equipment, command decision-making, and military simulation. China could repurpose nuclear energy to increase warheads or enhance arsenal destructive potential. Gene editing advances could lead to mass destruction weapons. US must respond quickly to MCF threats.

The United States faces a significant challenge in navigating the Multilateral Cooperation Framework (MCF) due to the dual-use nature of technologies, which offer civilian and military applications. These technologies are deeply integrated into US-China trade, and any restriction on Chinese gains in these sectors risks significant economic blowback. The US must draw the line on Chinese technological advancements without sacrificing its industries or risking handing leverage to China.

To counter MCF, the US has implemented policies restricting the flow of information China uses to bolster the PLA, such as visa limits for exchange students and restrictions on the sale of goods necessary to create targeted technologies. These measures impede China’s ability to gain critical technologies for military technology but also have significant consequences for the US’ technological innovation and corporations.

For example, the US faced backlash for additional limits on the sale of advanced semiconductors to curtail China’s progress on AI. This could gut the industry overnight and accelerate China’s development of an independent chip industry.

To counter MCF, the US should identify specific sectors with the most potential to influence Chinese state behavior and create highly dangerous weapons, but not impose measures that discriminate against Chinese corporate interests. Instead, the US should strengthen its technological base in these industries and collaborate with other actors to establish international guidelines and regulations to prevent China from acquiring destructive forms of these technologies.

The US can de-risk trade with China by reorganizing its supply chains in MCF-targeted industries and protecting technological innovation without causing the CCP to increase industrial independence. The US should consider international frameworks that regulate the production of advanced weapons of mass destruction, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross’s “position on autonomous weapon systems.” This allows the production of AI-based weapons systems while establishing humanitarian guidelines to prevent misuse.

While the US cannot prevent China from using emerging industries to boost its military might, it can minimize the possibility of the PLA overshadowing the US military. Adjusting its response to MCF to bolster its industries and establish international guidelines for MCF-targeted technologies can help mitigate any potential Chinese military superiority.

ChinaChina's Technological Superiority: Military-Civil Fusion ApproachmilitaryPeople Liberation Army (PLA)- China