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Can we pay the Chinese Communist Party the compliment of acknowledging that it means what it says and knows what it wants? That may be the key to understanding Beijing’s strategic ambitions in the coming decades.

A long-standing trope in the U.S. debate on that subject is that China itself doesn’t know what it seeks to achieve, that its leaders haven’t yet worked out how far Beijing’s influence should reach. Yet there is a growing body of evidence, assembled and interpreted by talented China experts, that the Chinese government is indeed aiming for global power and perhaps global primacy over the next generation — that it seeks to upend the American-led international system and create at least a competing, quasi-world order of its own.

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