Xi Jinping at the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 2016.
Jason Lee / Reuters

China should be a “global leader in innovation” by 2035, President Xi Jinping declared during the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress last October. His remarks reflected a core strategic ambition: After decades of reliance upon foreign technology, Xi’s China aspires not only to catch up with the West’s technological development but to surpass it—through a national strategy for “innovation-driven” development.

China’s trajectory in quantum science—which leverages principles of quantum mechanics to create disruptive, perhaps transformative technologies—will be a key test of Xi’s ambitions. Beijing is striving to become a world leader in

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