The race for 5G — the next-generation cell-network technology that promises high speed, low latency, and high throughput — has emerged as a new frontier of rivalry in U.S.-China relations. The technological advances by Huawei, ZTE, and other companies may allow China to become the first country to deploy 5G on a wide scale, giving its economy an edge. But 5G’s dual-use and military potential introduces another dimension of geostrategic significance — one that the Chinese military and defense industry are avidly exploring.
The advancement of 5G in China is linked to its national strategy for military-civil fusion (军民融合). In November 2018, key industry players established the 5G Technology Military-Civil Fusion Applications Industry Alliance (5G技术军民融合应用产业联盟),including ZTE, China Unicom, and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). This new partnership aims to foster collaboration and integrated military and civilian development, while promoting both defense and commercial applications. In particular, the CASIC First Research Academy is focusing on the use of 5G in aerospace. There could be some notable synergies in 5G development among these and other notable players. For instance, 5G will require specialized communications equipment, such as certain antennas and microwave equipment, that the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), a state-owned defense conglomerate, has established particular proficiency in developing.
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