Inside China’s National Defense Mobilization Reform: Capacity Surveys, Mobilization Resources, and “New-Type” Militias

Posted: 10th March 2022
Inside China’s National Defense Mobilization Reform: Capacity Surveys, Mobilization Resources, and “New-Type” Militias


Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

This report examines China’s national defense mobilization system, the national and international resources that authorities account for in national defense mobilization planning, and the emergence of "new-type" militia forces. The principal source for this report is a publicly available draft document authored by the Central Military Commission National Defense Mobilization Department, which Recorded Future found online in May 2021. This report also draws from news reporting and other Chinese-language sources, including government white papers and academic publications, to shed new light on the topics listed above. This report will be of most interest to governments, militaries, and researchers interested in China’s reserve force planning and organization, as well as those seeking to understand the economic, technological, and civilian resources that Beijing values in the context of national defense mobilization — an important aspect of military-civil fusion. The author, Devin Thorne, thanks Zoe Haver and Conor Kennedy for their insightful comments on early drafts of this report. Information about the author can be found at the end of the report.

Executive Summary

Near-continuous reforms to China’s national defense mobilization system over the past several decades have sought to strengthen the country’s capacity to counter threats to the party-state and homeland. The latest of these reforms is a new method of cataloging and accounting for the thousands of military and civilian resources that the party-state and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can bring to bear in upholding China’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, and security at home and abroad. The first section of this report, A New Mobilization Planning System, introduces this new method and draws on a draft document authored by the National Defense Mobilization Department (NDMD) of the Central Military Commission (CMC) to shed unprecedented light on the full range of resources likely enrolled in ongoing military-civil fusion (MCF) mobilization efforts. These resources are located both in China and overseas and provide a window into how the authorities in China evaluate the country’s strategic posture; they include, but are not limited to, resources related to weapons research, maritime transport, cyber capabilities, public opinion guidance, natural resources, and space-based technologies.

Another core part of national defense mobilization reform is the creation of increasingly specialized militia forces, an effort that began in the early 2000s but has accelerated under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping’s leadership. As documented in the second section of this report, China’s “New-Type” Militias, these forces are intended, at least at the conceptual level, to carry out emergency response tasks, support the needs of modern warfare, and help extend China’s military power into new strategic spaces such as cyberspace, outer space, and the polar regions. New-type militia forces are largely established by recruiting well-educated, higher-skill professionals from China’s civilian economy under the MCF strategic framework. Although these forces continue to face challenges, they are involved in COVID-19 management in China, in the South China Sea, in cyberspace capabilities development, and in other matters that affect the international community. Monitoring militia development as well as the broader pool of mobilization resources available to the party-state and PLA both in China and around the world is, thus, a prerequisite for adequate policy and defense planning among members of the international community concerned with China’s armed forces modernization and national defense activities.

Key Judgments

  • The national defense mobilization resources identified in this report will almost certainly play a role in the future domestic and international activities of China’s armed forces, as well as enhance the PLA’s capacity to operate globally, including in cyberspace.
  • By standardizing the categories of, and data collection templates for, national defense mobilization resources, the newly implemented resource accounting method is likely to strengthen China’s peacetime and wartime preparedness and the efficacy of its crisis and conflict management efforts.
  • New-type militia construction and related reforms seek to streamline and upskill China’s militia forces, not expand their overall number, and will likely enhance the value of the militia as a supporting force for the PLA in future conflicts, though significant challenges remain.
  • Looking to the future, new-type militia force construction will likely focus on maritime reconnaissance, transport, and search and rescue; border and coastal defense, including escort and language interpretation; network (cyber) space capabilities, including network attack and public opinion guidance; and various activities related to intelligence collection, specialized military equipment support, and strategic frontier operations; among other areas.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.