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Belt and Road: Prospects for Sino-Armenian cooperation in the financial-banking sphere

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The main aim of this research is to analyze and present why and how China is trying to implement a plan with which it could become an independent financial pole. What kind of sources has Beijing gathered for financing BRI? Why and how should Armenia try to be involved in the financial sector of the BRI? What will Armenia and China get if they cooperate in the aforementioned sphere? why should China be interested in conversion of Chinese Renminbi to Armenian currency and why should it be interested in establishing a branch of any Chinese bank in Armenia?

 China is trying to influence the world economy through BRI, with which it is creating a financial and economic platform that can act independently from the West, so that in the event of a China-US confrontation, China would not be isolated. In turn countries which will create ties with China through BRI will get Chinese loans and investments.

In order to implement the aforementioned strategy, thanks to the work of the Chinese diplomatic corps, on October 1, 2016, Chinese currency was included in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) valuation basket by the International Monitory Fund. 

From my point of view, one of the main aims of this step to strengthen the position of Chinese RENMINBI, which will provide an opportunity to Beijing to give loans and implement vast investment projects in states which are involved in the BRI, using its own national currency and in international trade grow the quantity of financial transfers with RENMINBI. Beijing also aims to reduce its dependence from the USD. As Chinese authors mention, “BRI will provide an opportunity to China to strengthen Renminbi role as a regional currency and afterwards as an international currency.

China’s investments in the framework of BRI rise the global meaning of Chinese initiative, as due to Asian Development Bank’s report, “Infrastructure needs in developing Asia and the Pacific will exceed from $1.5 to $1.7 trillion per year”.

In October 2015, China established “China International Payment Service (CIPS)”, which aims to make Chinese currency available at foreign banking systems and it will reduce also China’s dependence from “The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)”. Dozens of international banks have already joined and can use Chinese CIPS. It is worth noting also the importance of Yinilan (银联- Union Pay) payment service. It provides states which are participating in BRI with an opportunity to make interbank and international bank transfers using Chinese currency.  

It is worth mentioning that already in the end of 2016 Chinese banks opened 62 branches in 26 states which participated in BRI. China officially mentioned in its “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road” document, that China must rise exchange of currencies with the BRI participants, create and develop Asian bond markets.” For implementing aforementioned aims, China creates financial system, in which joint financial structures, foundations established by Beijing and partners, several Chinese banks are playing leading and crucial roles. It is expected that China’s government will invest $ 1 trillion in total in its BRI. The research of BRI’s financial system is important, as it provides an opportunity to states which have stable financial systems to be involved in BRI’s financial-economic system and get benefits.

Silk Road Foundation

Until 2018 the main financial investments in BRI have been made by Chinese companies. It is clear that both interests, and resources of Chinese companies are limited. Thus, for continuation of Chinese investments in the framework of BRI and for financing projects of the foreign countries as well, on December 29, 2014, Beijing established Silk Road Foundation. The Main aim of this foundation is to make investments and develop infrastructure, industry and financial systems. It has $40 billion capital.It is also worth mentioning that until May 2017 it has provided $ 4 billion for investments within the framework of BRI.

Asian infrastructure Investment bank

Special importance was also ascribed to the establishment of The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in January 2016.   It is worth mentioning that China was able to establish the AIIB under pressure from the US. AIIB authorized capital amounts to $ 100 billion.

According to Xi Jinping’s report, AIIB until 2017has provided $ 1.7bn for investments within the framework of BRI. From the South Caucasus, Georgia and Azerbaijan are members of AIIB. Representatives of these countries are also included in the Board of Governors. In 2016 November, Azerbaijan succeeded to receive $ 600 million from AIIB to build a trans-Anatolian gas pipeline, and Georgia received $ 114 million from the bank to build a bypass road.

On one hand, Armenia is a member of the EAEU, and on the other hand it is strengthening its cooperation with the EU. Yerevan also speaks about its commitment to strengthen cooperation with China in the field of transportation, in the framework of China’s BRI initiative. It is worth mentioning that to become a transit country in transportation corridors which unite different regions of the Eurasian continent, Armenia must at first develop and modernize its poorly developed transportation infrastructure. For this reason, Armenia is building the 556-kilometer North-South Road Corridor, which will start at the Armenian-Iranian border and stretch to the Armenian-Georgian border.In 2018 China’s lead Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is investing mainly in transportation infrastructures in BRI participant countries, published its “Transport Sector Strategy: Sustainable and Integrated Transport for Trade and Economic Growth in Asia”. The research of this strategy shows that its main aims fully coincide with Armenian North-South Road Corridor Investment Program which is being implemented by Transport Project Implementation Organization. My recommendation is that at first Armenia can try to stand Regional member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank and after get sovereign backed or non-sovereign backed loans for its state-owned noncommercial organizations, private organizations, and international organizations which works in the territory of Armenia, that they invest this money in Armenian North-South Transportation Corridor, which will significantly enhance Armenia’s capabilities to be involved in the Silk Road Economic Belt’s China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Belt.

I think that Armenia’s accession to AIIB will also allow to start negotiations for a possibility of getting a loan for the construction of the Armenian-Iranian railroad.

BRICS NEW DEVELOPMENT BANK

The other crucial step in this direction was the foundation of BRICS New Development Bank with the other members of BRICS. This international financial institution has its own monetary fund, and its main aim is to ensure the financial sustainability of its founders.

Within the period of 2016-2017 the Bank has approved a $ 3,4 billion credit line. The NDB aims to provide this amount for the development of communications, renewable energy, water purification, irrigation and other projects. It was confirmed that the initial capital of the NDB would be $ 50 billion, which would be shared by the Member States on a parity basis. It was also decided that the statutory capital of the bank should be raised to $ 100 billion. The NDB Center is located in Shanghai, China, with the ultimate goal of providing financial sustainability for its founders. In other words, the NDB will be financing most of the initiatives undertaken within the framework of BRI in China, Russia, India, Brazil and South African Republic.

Chinese banks financing BRI:

China Development Bank – 国家开发银行

Near the end of 2014th year the latest capital of the CDB reached the amount of 10.32 trillion Chinese Renminbi.

In 2014 the CDB has provided 1.56 trillion yuan for investments in foreign countries. The CDB declares that it serves China’s BRI and promotes the Chinese companies ‘Go Global’ policy. One of the CDB’s objectives is to deepen cooperation with foreign governments in financial institutions, industrial centers, infrastructures, finance, agriculture and energy. For example, the CDB has opened a $ 10 billion credit line for the ASEAN member states to develop their infrastructures. This line of credit can also be used by Chinese companies, which are going to build factories and develop industries in these countries.

The Export-Import Bank of China – 中国进出口银行

The Export-Import Bank of China is a state-funded and state-owned policy bank with the status of an independent legal entity.  One of the main goals of this bank is to promote China’s foreign trade and the normal course of investments, the development of economic cooperation with the outside world, and the support of Chinese organizations in the framework of the “Go Global” policy.

For example, in 2013, this bank provided $ 385 million loan to Kyrgyzstan to modernize Bishkek thermal power plant.

China Bank – 中国银行

In 2014 the CB actives reached $ 2.458 trillion. The Bank has announced that the 2016-2018 China will provide $ 100 billion to Chinese companies to finance projects abroad within the framework of BRI.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – 中国工商银行 (ICBC)

The ICBC is the largest bank in the world.  By the year of 2016, it has created 412 financial institutions in the world, 127 of which are located in the BRI countries. The ICBC declares that it will support the policy of Chinese organizations abroad.

In sum, China uses governmental, international and private financial resources for the successful implementation of BRI. It is worth mentioning that China combined the internationalization of the Renminbi with the globalization of the BRI initiative. For one thing, the implementation of BRI provides an added impetus and unique platform for continuation of the establishment of the Renminbi as an international currency, and for another, it fostersthe sustainable development of the financial sector of BRI outside of China, which provides an opportunity for China to turn into an independent financial pole.

Prospects for Sino-Armenian cooperation in the financial-banking sphere within the framework of the BRI

Taking into account international experience, based on which the CDB has agreed to provide Egypt’s SIBBANK  funding for financing Egyptian enterprises, and financial support to Singaporean and Chinese companies should be provided to invest in the framework of  BRI, I do believe, that it is possible to get a credit line from the Chinese banks for Armenian small and medium-sized businesses which are importing to Armenia Chinese high-technologies.

As a result, Armenia’s businessmen will be able to expand their business, with additional cash flows to Armenia, and China, in its turn, will be able to put its own money into circulation and increase interest in Chinese-made equipment and products in Armenia, which is a member of Eurasian Economic Union.

Armenian business companies can also start direct negotiations with Chinese companies for starting joint investments in Armenia, after the agreements between both sides’ entities in special projects, Chinese business companies can apply to the above-mentioned Chinese banks, that they provide them finances for investing in Armenian within the framework of BRI.

One of the best arguments for this hypothesis is the message of Xi Jinping to Chinese organizations, according to which the Chinese leadership is interested in the fact that Chinese companies are increasing their role in investing within the framework of the BRI, basing on the “Go Global” policy.

Assessment of the Establishment of a Chinese Bank in RA From the viewpoint of economic persistence of RA:

Internationalization of Chinese Renminbi provides a wide range of opportunities to countries with stable banking systems included in the BRI as they have the opportunity to engage Chinese banks in their own banking system or to establish intermediary banks operating in Chinese currency to provide a conversion of their currency by renminbi.

The following question arises: why should China be interested in conversion of Chinese Renminbi to Armenian currency and why should it be interested in establishing a branch of any Chinese banks in Armenia?

China will get an opportunity to trade with Armenia with Chinese currency, due to Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia bilateral, direct trade between Armenia and China is worth 490 million USD. With this step, the role of the Renminbi will be strengthened in the global financial arena. Additionally, if the Chinese side establishes a bank in Armenia, Chinese capital will be involved in the Armenian financial-banking sphere.  

The following question arises as well: what will Armenia get?

If a branch of one of the leading Chinese banks is opened or if Armenia and China establish a joint bank, the result will be significant financial investments in Armenia. The financial field of the country will be diversified, and if Dram-Renminbi conversion is introduced, bilateral trade between Armenia and China will be realized in their own currencies, thanks to which Armenian and Chinese businessman will no longer lose money in currency exchange.

According to our calculations, the Armenian side loses about $ 10mln annually due to the above-mentioned function, which can be ruled out if the Armenian banks are able to transfer their Chinese counterparts directly Renminbi. Chinese and Armenians living and studying in China and in Armenian will also benefit and be able to transfer Chinese currency to Armenia and to get money in the opposite direction without any additional losses of time and money.

China and Russia announced that they will try to deepen cooperation and reduce their tensions through the harmonization of the EAEU and BRI.Membership in the EAEU provides an opportunity to Armenia to defend its interests during negotiations with Big China more productively, as Armenia can first include the projects in the agenda of the EAEU in which it is interested, and after that, in from the name of the EAEU team, already from a strengthened position, introduce its projects to the Chinese side.

And the other recommendation is that that from time to time Armenia must invite Chinese businessmen and specialists to Armenia and offer them projects, which can bring bilateral benefit.

(*)Dr. Mher D. Sahakyan, The author of the book “Belt and Road Initiative and Armenia”, 2018, from which this essay is adapted. Translated from Armenian. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Is Myanmar an ethical minefield for multinational corporations?

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Business at a crossroads

Political reforms in Myanmar started in November 2010 followed by the release of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and ended by the coup d’état in February 2021. Business empire run by the military generals thanks to the fruitful benefits of democratic transition during the last decade will come to an end with the return of trade and diplomatic sanctions from the western countries – United States (US) and members of European Union (EU).  US and EU align with other major international partners quickly responded and imposed sanctions over the military’s takeover and subsequent repression in Myanmar. These measures targeted not only the conglomerates of the military generals  but also the individuals who have been appointed in the authority positions and supporting the military regime.

However, the generals and their cronies own the majority of economic power both in strategic sectors ranging from telecommunication to oil & gas and in non-strategic commodity sectors such as food and beverages, construction materials, and the list goes on. It is a tall order for the investors to do business by avoiding this lucrative network of the military across the country. After the coup, it raises the most puzzling issue to investors and corporate giants in this natural resource-rich country, “Should I stay or Should I go?”

Crimes against humanity

For most of the people in the country, war crimes and atrocities committed by the military are nothing new. For instances, in 1988, student activists led a political movement and tried to bring an end to the military regime of the general Ne Win. This movement sparked a fire and grew into a nationwide uprising in a very short period but the military used lethal force and slaughtered thousands of civilian protestors including medical doctors, religious figures, student leaders, etc. A few months later, the public had no better options than being silenced under barbaric torture and lawless killings of the regime.

In 2007, there was another major protest called ‘Saffron Uprising’ against the military regime led by the Buddhist monks. It was actually the biggest pro-democracy movement since 1988 and the atmosphere of the demonstration was rather peaceful and non-violent before the military opened live ammunitions towards the crowd full of monks. Everything was in chaos for a couple of months but it ended as usual.

In 2017, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic events in Myanmar – Again!. The reports published by the UN stated that hundreds of civilians were killed, dozens of villages were burnt down, and over 700,000 people including the majority of Rohingya were displaced to neighboring countries because of the atrocities committed by the military in the western border of the country. After four years passed, the repatriation process and the safety return of these refugees to their places of origin are yet unknown. Most importantly, there is no legal punishment for those who committed and there is no transitional justice for those who suffered in the aforementioned examples of brutalities.

The vicious circle repeated in 2021. With the economy in free fall and the deadliest virus at doorsteps, the people are still unbowed by the oppression of the junta and continue demanding the restoration of democracy and justice. To date, Assistant Association for Political Prisoner (AAPP) reported that due to practicing the rights to expression, 1178 civilians were killed and 7355 were arrested, charged or sentenced by the military junta. Unfortunately, the numbers are still increasing.

Call for economic disengagement

In 2019, the economic interests of the military were disclosed by the report of UN Fact-Finding Mission in which Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) were described as the prominent entities controlled by the military profitable through the almost-monopoly market in real estate, insurance, health care, manufacturing, extractive industry and telecommunication. It also mentioned the list of foreign businesses in partnership with the military-linked activities which includes Adani (India), Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).

Moreover, Justice for Myanmar, a non-profit watchdog organization, revealed the specific facts and figures on how the billions of revenues has been pouring into the pockets of the high-ranked officers in the military in 2021. Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), an another military-controlled authority body, is the key player handling the financial transactions, profit sharing, and contractual agreements with the international counterparts including Total (France), Chevron (US), PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), and Posco (South Korea) in natural gas projects. It is also estimated that the military will enjoy 1.5 billion USD from these energy giants in 2022.

Additionally, data shows that the corporate businesses currently operating in Myanmar has been enriching the conglomerates of the generals and their cronies as a proof to the ongoing debate among the public and scholars, “Do sanctions actually work?” Some critics stressed that sanctions alone might be difficult to pressure the junta without any collaborative actions from Moscow and Beijing, the longstanding allies of the military. Recent bilateral visits and arm deals between Nay Pyi Taw and Moscow dimmed the hope of the people in Myanmar. It is now crystal clear that the Burmese military never had an intention to use the money from multinational corporations for benefits of its citizens, but instead for buying weapons, building up military academies, and sending scholars to Russia to learn about military technology. In March 2021, the International Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar reiterated its recommendation for the complete economic disengagement as a response to the coup, “No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw [the military], or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members…”

Blood money and ethical dilemma

In the previous military regime until 2009, the US, UK and other democratic champion countries imposed strict economic and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar while maintaining ‘carrot and stick’ approach against the geopolitical dominance of China. Even so, energy giants such as Total (France) and Chevron (US), and other ‘low-profile’ companies from ASEAN succeeded in running their operations in Myanmar, let alone the nakedly abuses of its natural resources by China. Doing business in this country at the time of injustice is an ethical question to corporate businesses but most of them seems to prefer maximizing the wealth of their shareholders to the freedom of its bottom millions in poverty.

But there are also companies not hesitating to do something right by showing their willingness not to be a part of human right violations of the regime. For example, Australian mining company, Woodside, decided not to proceed further operations, and ‘get off the fence’ on Myanmar by mentioning that the possibility of complete economical disengagement has been under review. A breaking news in July, 2021  that surprised everyone was the exit of Telenor Myanmar – one of four current telecom operators in the country. The CEO of the Norwegian company announced that the business had been sold to M1 Group, a Lebanese investment firm, due to the declining sales and ongoing political situations compromising its basic principles of human rights and workplace safety.

In fact, cutting off the economic ties with the junta and introducing a unified, complete economic disengagement become a matter of necessity to end the consistent suffering of the people of Myanmar. Otherwise, no one can blame the people for presuming that international community is just taking a moral high ground without any genuine desire to support the fight for freedom and pro-democracy movement.

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The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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