After a prolonged conflict between Russia-G7 (the Group of Seven advanced economies) remaining without any solution so far, now China and G7 are gearing up for a serious conflict which, if not controlled by the big powers, could escalate into a another cold war situation. America’s Asia pivot targeting China (and Russia) and China’s recent military action on South China Sea (SCS) have now placed G7 and China in a conflictual situation. The G-7 grouping comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. The EU is also represented in the club.
The 42nd G7 advanced economies’ summit, held on May 26–27, 2016 at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Kashiko Island, Shima, Mie Prefecture in central Japan, criticized and even warned against military operations on SCS. Russia is not a part of G7 as USA abandoned the G8 in March 2014 that included Russia and reverted back to G7. The G7 had then declared that a meaningful discussion was not possible with Russia in the context of the G8. Since then, meetings have continued within the G7 process, denying Russia a place on this important international forum of advanced economies.
Leaders of the G7 said they were concerned by the situation in the East China and South China Sea. They reiterated their commitment to maintaining a rules-based maritime order, according to international law, and urged the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, including judicial procedures such as arbitration. At the close of their formal session in Ise-Shima, G7 leaders fired a broadside across China’s bows over its behavior in the region, without mentioning Beijing by name. The foreign ministers had urged all states to refrain from such actions as land reclamations and “building of outposts on South China Sea for military purposes”. The G-7 leaders had stressed the importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes through peaceful means.
Though the communiqué, issued at the end of the two-day summit on May 27, the G-7 did not mention China by name, but it is apparent the G7 is targeting only China. The G-7 leaders also condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and its subsequent launches using ballistic missile technology. These acts pose a grave threat to regional and international peace and security, they said, adding that they also deplored human rights violations in North Korea. On terrorism, the G-7 leaders said they will continue to work together to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and terrorism-related materials and equipment, as well as to counter terrorism financing. And, on the migrant crisis gripping Europe, the G-7 “encourages the temporary admission of refugees and establishment of resettlement schemes, to alleviate pressure on countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees”.
The G7 demanded that North Korea fully comply with UN Security Council resolutions and halt nuclear tests, missile launches and other provocative actions. The group condemned Russia’s “illegal annexation” of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The declaration threatened further restrictive measures to raise the costs on Moscow but said sanctions could be rolled back if Russia implemented previous agreements and respected Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The G7 expressed concern over the East and South China Seas, where China has been taking more assertive action amid territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations. The G7 reiterated its commitment to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes and to respecting the freedom of navigation and overflight. The group called for countries to refrain from “unilateral actions which could increase tensions” and “to settle disputes by peaceful means”.
Meanwhile, the refugee crisis gripping Europe is a problem that the whole world must deal with, G7 leaders said, as it called for beefed-up efforts to tackle the root causes of mass migration. The G7 also called large-scale immigration and migration a major challenge and vowed to increase global aid for the immediate and long-term needs of refugees and displaced people.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and World Bank head Jim Yong Kim, the heads of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Asian Development Bank also attended the summit.
G7 summit focus on global growth
The Group of 7 industrial powers pledged on May 27 to seek strong global growth, while papering over differences on currencies and stimulus policies and expressing concern over North Korea, Russia and maritime disputes involving China. G7 leaders wrapped up a summit in central Japan vowing to use “all policy tools” to boost demand and ease supply constraints. G7 said, in a 32-page declaration, global growth remains moderate and below potential, while risks of weak growth persists.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that global growth is their urgent priority, talking up what he calls parallels to the global financial crisis that followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, said the G7 shares a strong sense of crisis about the global outlook. The most worrisome risk is a contraction of the global economy, led by a slowdown in emerging economies. Abe has stressed the need for flexible fiscal policy to sustain economic recovery, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been sceptical about public spending to boost growth. The G7 called global industrial overcapacity, especially in steel, a pressing structural challenge with global implications.
Abe told a news conference after chairing the two-day summit that there is a risk of the global economy falling into crisis if appropriate policy responses are not made. In the broad-ranging, the G7 committed to market-based exchange rates and to avoiding competitive devaluation of their currencies, while warning against wild exchange-rate moves. This represents a compromise between the positions of Japan, which has threatened to intervene to block sharp yen rises, and the United States, which generally opposes market intervention.
The G7 encourages international financial institutions and bilateral donors to bolster their financial and technical assistance. It said that a resolution to Syria’s civil war was crucial to plugging the flow of desperate people fleeing across borders. “The G7 recalls that only sustainable political settlements within countries of origin, including Syria, will bring lasting solutions to the problem of forced displacement, including refugees,” the communiqué said.
Large movements of people are a multi-faceted phenomenon, which requires addressing its root causes resulting from conflicts, state fragility and insecurity, demographic, economic and environmental trends as well as natural disasters. The statement came a day after European Council President Donald Tusk warned that the crisis was not just Europe’s problem.
Later, leaders from ‘advanced democracies’ met on Friday with representatives of emerging and developing countries in Asia and Africa. The so-called outreach program involves Chad, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Laos. G7 host Japan said ahead of the meeting that it would zero in on Asia’s stability and prosperity including “open and stable seas” as well as United Nations sustainable development goals, with a focus on Africa.
The leaders pledged to tackle a global glut in steel, though their statement did not single out China, which produces half of the world’s steel and is blamed by many countries for flooding markets with cheap steel.
The G7 vowed a more forceful and balanced policy mix to achieve a strong, sustainable and balanced growth pattern, taking each country’s circumstances into account, while continuing efforts to put public debt on a sustainable path.
South China Sea
From economic issues, the G7 turned to a topically favourite theme of Chinese ‘interference’ in South China Sea and it appeared the issue got prominence in discussions than expected. Beijing has reiterated that it wants to protect itself from any possible US menace to protect its navigational rights on South China Sea. China is extremely dissatisfied with what Japan and the G7 have done.
The G7 statement angered China and led to Beijing summoning top envoys from the G-7 nations. Beijing lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea, and is now embroiled in a territorial dispute with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines over conflicting claims to territory in the waterway. Japan and China are involved in a separate dispute in the East China Sea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said this G-7 summit organised by Japan’s hyping up of the South China Sea issue and exaggeration of tensions is not beneficial to stability in the South China Sea.
China was not pleased with the G7 stance. “This G7 summit organised by Japan’s hyping up of the South China Sea issue and exaggeration of tensions is not beneficial to stability in the South China Sea and does accord with the G7’s position as a platform for managing the economies of developed nations,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing. A ruling is expected soon on China’s claims to the South China Sea in a case that the Philippines had brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Beijing has lashed out at the tribunal for “abuse of power”, and said it will ignore its decision.
China’s foreign minister fired a pre-emptive shot at G7 leaders gathering in Japan, warning them not to “escalate tensions” over territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Last month, foreign ministers from the G7 angered Beijing by issuing a thinly veiled statement critical of its “island building” activities in the South China Sea over recent years. The issue is expected to be raised again as G7 heads of state and prime ministers begin two days of discussions in Ise-Shima. “We hope the G7 will focus on urgent economic and financial matters,” Wang Yi said at a briefing in Beijing. “We do not want to see actions that escalate tensions in the region.”
Beijing is locked in a dispute with G7 host Japan over rocky outcroppings in the East China Sea, stoking broader concerns about Beijing’s growing regional might and threats to back up its claims with force, if necessary. China, for its part is engaged in a furious diplomatic charm offensive among developing countries, offering aid and trade in what critics see as a naked bid to rally international support to its cause. The roster of countries Beijing claims back its position on the South China Sea includes Mauritania, Togo and land-locked Niger.
Washington is not a claimant in any of the disputes but has accused Beijing of militarizing the contested waters of the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines are engaged in a number of territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has recently completed airstrips and other infrastructure on contested reefs and islets. Manila has successfully rallied international support through its decision to challenge China’s actions in a tribunal at The Hague — an international legal challenge that Beijing has refused to recognize.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, said the lifting of the Vietnam arms embargo was not aimed at China, despite an increasing number of close encounters between the two countries’ militaries. Even UK PM David Cameron, wants to be now China’s “best friend” in the west, urged Beijing to be part of a “rules-based world” and “abide by these adjudications”. The Pentagon recently complained that People’s Liberation Army jet fighters conducted a dangerously close intercept of a US spy aircraft. Chinese state media reported that USA and Japanese naval vessels had kept a close eye on PLA Navy exercises in the western Pacific.
Meanwhile, reports say in September Beijing will host Obama, Cameron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a G20 meeting of developed and developing economies in Hangzhou, where Wan will make clear that his government would not tolerate a debate over regional territorial disputes. China say the G20’s central task is to promote growth and not dispute resolutions.
China fears that Japan and the US will use the G7 meeting to further isolate Beijing over its increasingly assertive posture in the region. The two countries are also leading members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential trading bloc that has pointedly excluded China from joining as an inaugural member. The reference to maritime issues comes as tensions build over Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic body of water that encompasses key global shipping lanes. China’s maritime claims and ongoing militarization of islets and outcrops have angered some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture
Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*
As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.
As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.
China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.
Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.
Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.
As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.
Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.
Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”
This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.
* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.
China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East
The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.
China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.
This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.
It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.
China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.
Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.
Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.
China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.
Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.
Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.
China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.
As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.
Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight
A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.
The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.
The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.
The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.
Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.
China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.
The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.
The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.
Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan
China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets
China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.
To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.
The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.
Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.
The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.
Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.
The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”
A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”
The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”
The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.
At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.
Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.
The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.
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