When Facebook announced plans this year for a cryptocurrency called Libra, it said its goal was to reinvent money for the internet age. What the company probably didn't imagine was that its efforts might spur China to get there first.

China wants to start replacing the cash that people carry with a digital currency soon, a long-discussed project that went into overdrive after Libra was unveiled in June. Facebook has been fighting to defend its initiative against skeptical regulators, and key corporate partners have pulled out of the project. But Beijing's ambitions appear to be moving ahead at full speed.

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