China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–25) will be pivotal in its efforts to develop the advanced technologies it needs to become a world-class military. Jon Grevatt reports...
The motivation behind Beijing’s push to develop indigenous military-industrial and technological capabilities has never been stronger.
As China enters the next stage of its development – framed by its 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP) 2021–25 – the country is increasingly ostracised on the international stage but has growing imperatives to achieve the breakthroughs in advanced military technologies required to support its strategic objectives.
The next five years, as President Xi Jinping has recognised, will be pivotal in China’s bid to become the global leader in military capabilities.
“It is necessary [that the] 14th Five-Year Plan supports the development of our military and the development of independent innovation,” said President Xi in late 2020. He went on to describe the plan as “critical for the modernisation of the armed forces” and China’s efforts to develop a “world-class army”.
The 14th FYP, added President Xi, will “accelerate breakthroughs in key technologies; accelerate the development of strategic, cutting-edge, and disruptive technologies; and accelerate the implementation of major strategies for defence technology and weaponry”.
China’s requirement to accelerate military modernisation during the 14th FYP has been heightened by its deteriorating relations with its strategic rival, the United States, as well as its increasingly strained ties with regional US allies including Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
At the start of the 13th FYP (2016–20), China and the US generally tolerated each other and sought ways to collaborate. However, since then bilateral ties have been damaged by issues including bilateral trade conflicts, sanctions, and growing tensions related to China’s claims to regional territory, which have deepened the suspicion of intentions each country holds about the other.
China’s international reputation has been further damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged the global economy and related US government assertions that Beijing mishandled its response to the disease when it first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.
The overall effect of China’s deteriorating international relationships has not been lost on Beijing. Official documents issued by the Chinese government have, during the past year, referenced China’s unwanted “decoupling” from the rest of the world and a consequential requirement to ensure that the country is wholly self-reliant.
Although this priority is applicable across all domains, for China’s military the requirement for what President Xi describes as “independent innovation” has never been more compelling and will be a principal target for the 14th FYP and the second National Medium- and Long-term Science and Technology Development Plan (MLP), which runs from 2021–35.
These plans also have deep significance for the country’s defence industry, given the military sales embargo that was imposed on China in the late 1980s by the US and Europe and consequential efforts to overcome such barriers by leveraging advanced commercial domains for military gains in line with China’s military-civil fusion (MCF) strategy.