The foundation of innovation under military-civil fusion: The role of universities

Policy brief on the involvement of universities in China’s military-civil fusion strategy and the implications for international cooperation agreements.

Executive summary

China’s military-civil fusion (MCF) strategy has received increasing attention in liberal democracies as governments, universities, and industry become more aware of the risks associated with interacting with China. One of the primary risks associated with MCF is the concern that illicit technology transfer facilitated by the strategy will enable China to ultimately surpass western countries’ current dominance in the national defense technology arena. While the MCF strategy may have long-term goals to achieve national defense supremacy and bolster economic competition, the strategy is still in its early stages of development.

This policy brief seeks to address the role of Chinese universities in the MCF strategy by examining the evolution of MCF alongside that of the Chinese university system. In adopting this perspective, this policy brief discusses how university development plans—the 211 Project, 985 Project and Double First-Class University Plan—have facilitated universities in progressing towards achieving global status and serving as the foundation for the country’s science and technology innovation.

Although this policy brief describes Chinese universities as being key for the successful implementation of MCF, it also notes that both universities and the MCF strategy are still in their development phases. As a result, it remains difficult to assess whether the implementation of MCF will be successful long-term, and whether Chinese universities will have the capabilities necessary to fuel China’s innovation goals. To provide examples of how Chinese universities engage with MCF, this policy brief points to specific instances of partnerships between overseas universities and Chinese universities where technology transfers could occur.

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