Are Chinese elites ready to go for superpower status and stop “hiding their claws,” as Deng Xiaoping used to put it? Does the leadership feel prepared to play the role of a dominant power? Here are some of the smarter answers that I’ve read in recent memory, from a Chinese thinker who doesn’t fall under one of the easy labels of either a western liberal or a reflexive nationalist. Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, tells Yoichi Funabashi of Asahi Shimbun, that — Some younger-generation opinion leaders and others, maybe some officials as well, are calling for a more assertive policy toward other countries.

But the mainstream thinking, I mean the top leadership, is still very sober-minded about China’s own power and influence, and they are very conscious of China’s internal challenges combined with external challenges. Here is a snippet of an extended interview that is worth the time:

Q: Some intellectuals in the West say China is now imposing its rule on the world as the country grows, as exemplified by Martin Jacques’ book “When China Rules the World.” How do you react to those arguments?

A: I don’t see the possibility, not in my lifetime, that China will become No. 1 in world politics or China will dominate or rule the world. Because looking from within we have so many domestic challenges, including those reflected in the enlarged gap between rich and poor, social disparity and also in environmental degradation. If we cannot find a way to solve those problems, such as water shortage, pollution, climate change, and cope with social tensions successfully, China will not become that kind of global power on a par with the United States.

I don’t want to overemphasize China’s challenges, but I do think the outside world should take this into account when some say China is going to rule the world.

Another part of the question, which is not directly (in response to) the question you asked, is the so-called China model, zhongguo moshi, or Beijing Consensus. Yes, many developing countries and some developed countries admire China’s achievements. When I went to Eastern Europe, some said Peking University is as good as Harvard University. Well, to me it is not true, of course. China’s economy, education and technology are lagging far behind those of the United States. Those exaggerations of China’s power may not be ill-intended, but we should not be fooled and intoxicated by those exaggerations and praises.

– Evan Osnos