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Is China on the brink of a food crisis?

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It is not a secret that the current COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting people all around the globe. The virus touched almost all spheres of regular life – i.e. it resulted in temporary or permanent closure of businesses, a rise in the unemployment rate, inability to physically spend time with family and friends. Such drastic changes in times of uncertainty significantly impacted the well-being of the world population. Moreover, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned about the emerging food shortages worldwide. According to FAO statistics, global food prices have been on the rise for four consequent months, hitting their maximum in September 2020. China – the place where the virus originated – is one of the states that have been seriously affected by the disruptions, including production and distribution of food.

In his speech on August, 11 Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not admit any food shortages. However, he promoted food security through the campaign “operation empty plate,” thereby encouraging people to stop wasting food. It is interesting to note that Mao Zedong introduced a similar food campaign before the 1959 Great Chinese Famine. Meanwhile, there has undoubtedly been a significant increase in food prices in China. Many experts claim that China is on the brink of a food crisis that has been manifested as a result of lockdowns, infected livestock, and poor weather conditions. It is difficult to give any predictions or estimations about the future food situation in China because the country does not share enough of its data with the rest of the world, yet it is possible to answer the question why the state faces food difficulties.

Average food prices increase

The National Bureau of Statistics of China reported that, on average, food prices have increased by 11.2% compared to 2019. The price level of vegetables increased by 6.4% in one month; egg prices soared by 11.3% within the same period. Pork prices grew the most, by 52.6% compared to the last year’s statistics. Why is it important?

Firstly, many workers and their families who faced loss or decrease of income or remittances became food insecure. That, in turn, has had social repercussions for the overall level of crime, health concerns among adults and infants, high death rate, different demographic and economic challenges. Furthermore, international trade will also suffer: due to the lack of labor force Chinese imports in foreign countries will seemingly increase in price.

Secondly, China, along with other countries, was in a period of recession earlier this year. Food insecurity will cause difficulties in coming out of this financial downturn.

The impact of lockdowns on food supply chains

One of the main factors contributing to the declining agricultural productivity and spiking food prices in China is the restrictions on personal mobility and transportation of goods. In January Chinese authorities adopted measures to limit mobility within the country; they imposed “city lockdowns, traffic control, and closed management of villages and communities.” Such restrictions impacted food supply chains. For the production part many workers experienced difficulties getting to work that created a shortage of physical labor. That is why some crops were not picked, others were not even planted. As a result, the supply of agricultural goods decreased. On the other hand, at the beginning of the year, the demand for them also fell as restaurants and bars were closed. Thereby, many crops went to waste, while farmers did not make enough profit to purchase the seeds and fertilizers for the next season. It is a problem because businesses continue to open up, raising the demand and prices on crops. Immobility also impacted the distribution of seeds and fertilizers to the farms that disrupted the plantation season. Furthermore, the distribution of agricultural goods to grocery stores became difficult. Particular inconveniences associated with the restrictions on mobility all added up to the spike of prices on crops.

African Swine fever outbreak

Another factor impacting the emerging food crisis in China is the failure to rebuild last year’s loss of pigs due to the infection. Chinese porcine farms were hit by the African swine fever outbreak that infected and killed a large number of pigs (40% of total Chinese pigs’ population), decreasing the supply but increasing the prices on pork in 2019. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, pork prices were 52.6% higher in August this year than the year before, while corn prices – the main porcine fodder – increased by 20% compared to last year. Chinese farmers failed to improve the situation in 2020 due to severe flooding. The increased amount of precipitation caused considerable losses of corn and thus the inability to feed pigs. China began to import crops from abroad – particularly, corn from the US. As the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated, China had been importing 195,000 more tonnes of American corn than the year before.

Shuttered diplomatic relations between China and Western states

Some experts claim that Chinese diplomatic relations with such Western countries as Australia, the US and Canada shattered due to the fire of four ballistic missiles on the Indian border on August, 26. These states are China’s major food exporters. If their diplomatic relations with Beijing worsen, then the trade has a high chance of being negatively affected as well. In other words, Chinese imports of crops have the risk of becoming more expensive, meaning that the prices of pork and other goods might rise even more.

Severe flooding and drought

Finally, worsened weather conditions – some parts of China experienced drought, others were hit by flooding – led to a decrease in crops and a significant increase in food prices. Southern, Central and Eastern China underwent a period of heavy rain and the worst flooding in the last hundred years. Excessively high water levels in major Chinese rivers, including the Yangtze River, resulted in the evacuation of 15 million people in July 2020. Moreover, the flooding destroyed 13 million acres of agricultural land, which is estimated to cost at least $29 billion of economic damage. In the meantime Northern (Xinjiang province) and Southwest (Yunnan province) China have gone through a period of severe drought. In April 2020 nearly 1.5 million people in Yunnan province were caught in an emergency situation: shortages of drinking water, damage of hundreds of hectares of crops and livestock. Consequently, the supply of many agricultural goods and pork decreased, which spiked the prices on these goods.

Chinese long-term prospects toward food security

To conclude, immobility, African swine flu, worsened weather and security conditions led to the growing food shortages and increasing food prices in China. This being said, the Chinese government has been working on that problem. It has taken special measures to ensure sufficience of agricultural goods by investing in various disaster relief funds for different crops, particularly rice and wheat. For example, Chinese authorities allocated 1.4 billion yuan to save the agricultural harvest in Hubei province. Due to the substantial loss of agricultural products, China has also increased its imports. General Administration of Customs reported that China’s grain imports rose by 22.7% in July 2020 compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, the Chinese leader took a gentle approach to solve this problem. He did not announce the issues related to the insufficient number of crops; instead, he adopted a program for encouraging people to be more frugal with their eating habits. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences followed the same path as it denied anticipation of a food crisis in the short-term perspective, yet warned about possible food shortfalls by 2025 if no agricultural reforms take place. As of now, China is not on the break of a food crisis; however, its shuttered prospects for long-term food sustainability are subject to dangerous repercussions.

From our partner RIAC

East Asia

China and Indo-Pacific democracies in the face of American boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

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Despite the US administration’s announcement of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with the “American Olympic Committee allowing the participation of American athletes in the Winter Games in China”, many global democracies, that are allies to Washington itself were challenged to participate in the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and not only that, but a number of global official institutions defied the globally criticized  US decision, most notably the United Nations, by announcing “Antonio Guterres”, in his capacity as (UN Secretary-General), that he would attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, despite a boycott by several allies of Washington. They are mainly, are: (Britain, Australia, and Canada), but on the other hand, the decision to challenge the United States of America from its regional allies neighboring to China has very many implications, which can be analyzed, through:

  The confirmation of (South Korea, Japan, and India) and all the Asian countries directly neighboring to China, and the main allies of the United States of America in the “Indo-Pacific” region, to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics and challenge the American boycott decision: Despite Washington’s alliance with the countries of the “Indo-Pacific” region, according to the American concept, which aims to exclude China by inserting the Indian Ocean within its territorial elements and borders, or the “Asia-Pacific” region, according to the well-known traditional Chinese concept, and not politicized in the American sense. However, we can stop a lot to analyze future indications and indicators, about: (the extent of the global challenge to American decisions and demands to boycott the Beijing’s Winter Olympics), even from most of the (democratic regimes allies to Washington itself in the Asia-Pacific region, adjacent to Chinese influence and an ally of Washington).

  The most remarkable thing to me is the participation of “established Western democracies in the Beijing Winter Olympics and challenging the American boycott decision”, most importantly France, with French President “Emmanuel Macron”, describing the decision of the United States of America and some Western countries to boycott the Beijing Olympics diplomatically as a “trivial step”: The French government announced its defiance of the politicized US decision, and its non-diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.  Most notably, the French Minister of Education, Youth and Sports “Jean-Michel Blanquer”, said that:

 “He does not support this incomprehensible diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, calling on France to participate strongly, to prevent the politicization of sporting events globally”

  The French Minister of Education, Youth and Sports “Blanquer”, stated firmly that:

 “Sports is a world in itself, and it must be protected from political interference, otherwise we will end up killing competition, and this is unacceptable and we must not bow to it or encourage it”

  As for what is known as the theory of “China’s alliance with democracies and others to confront liberal authoritarianism” with the call for reforming American democracy at home: the Egyptian researcher believes that this applies primarily to the challenge of all democratic regimes to the decision of the American boycott, and their announcement that they all participate in the Winter Olympics. This is what requires the leaders and comrades of the Communist Party of China to take advantage of it later on by (adopting an appropriate discourse language aimed at mobilizing European politicians to defend its interests). Especially, on November every year in Beijing, all parties around the world are being invited by the (Department of Foreign Relations of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China) to attend the annual conference’s meetings in Beijing from November 30 to December 3, in each year. The Comrade “Xi Jinping” in his capacity as the General Secretary of the “CPC” Central Committee made a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the international dialogue in 2021, in front of number of leaders of political parties around the world, stressing of the principles of (multipolarity and ignoring unilateralism policies).

   China’s presentation of the topic and issue of “American politicization of the Beijing Winter Olympics and other events” in the meetings of foreign political parties and their political discussions, the dialogue will gain great importance for both the Communist Party of China and other parties even with different orientations and visions of communist ideology: what was striking to me as an expert in the Chinese affairs, what was done at the last conference of the CPC leaders’ meeting with the leaders of foreign political parties in 2021, the slogan has been raised by the participants, was that: “Working together towards a community with a shared future for the humanity and a better world: Responsibilities of political parties”. In this conference, the CPC discussed with all of the invited foreign parties leaders, the topic of “Sharing Responsibility on Major Global Issues”. Therefore, the leaders and comrades of the ruling Communist Party in China have benefitted of this opportunity to stress the importance of “not politicizing international sporting events and not politicizing events for American political agendas”.

  The importance of the Chinese and international demand remains, even at the level of the American interior itself, to continue the approach of “reforming the democratic and legal system at home first before trying to impose it on the outside and brandishing it”, for regimes it calls “authoritarian” as a justification for interfering in its internal affairs: here, it would be much better for the United States of America to (adopt a comprehensive domestic agenda that prioritizes justice and a real democracy, better than interfering in the internal affairs of others), additionally, the American policies should get rid of the (increasingly crucial ideological cases of the white supremacy racism over its black citizens). Here, effective American advocacy for liberal democracy does not need to interfere in the affairs of other countries, with taking into consideration and account that the (USA is often supporting the authoritarian governments and regimes for its own interests), overthrew elected governments, and the reason is partly due to its quest to confront the former Soviet Union, as well as to achieve its own economic interests.

Increasing Chinese and international demands for the United States of America and its always successive administrations to stop presenting itself as (the global leader of the values ​​of liberal democracy) and its demand to review all its policies and tracks internally and externally: here we find that Washington is in dire need to change its position regarding reviewing the policy of polarization internally and externally. Now, China and the international community should mainly focus on and call the USA for adoption such interior policies for the satisfaction of the American people, such as:

(Reforming all American democratic institutions, reforming its internal justice system, voting and casting their votes, including strengthening voting rights, in parallel with the need to put in place quick measures to stop racial injustice and improve comprehensive health and social security policies in the interior home).

 On the external level, the United States of America is in dire need of (working with everyone and respecting diversity and difference, regardless of their political systems, and striving to achieve common goals and securing global public goods), such as: (climate change, arms control and fighting terrorism), and other issues that are universally agreed upon.

   From my analytical point of view, it is necessary to shed light globally on the approaches and policies of the (development of China’s internal democracy and the improvement of its elections management system internally), in contrast to the decline in the level of performance of democracy in the American elections as the world followed them in the chaos of voting and the final results between “Biden and Trump”: The Communist Party of China “CPC” amended a number of internal regulations on Thursday, January 8, 2021, with the aim of improving the electoral work of all grassroots local Party organizations by approving the newly amended election rules, in accordance with the directives of the “Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee”, which announced that the local and grassroots groups are of great importance in strengthening the political structure of the Communist Party and the democracy within it. We can identify as well that the “Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee” has considered that the “revised version of the work rules for the elections of local party organizations, which was published by the CPC Central Committee on its official websites, is of great importance for unifying the standards of the electoral work of local party organizations and strengthening their construction”. 

  The procedures for the internal basal local elections of the Communist Party were determined by following (four steps for the election stages, determining an appropriate percentage for workers and peasants to represent them at the forefront of the front lines by selecting their delegates and their representatives in local party conferences), and the minimum required to represent this category is 30% of the are party’s congresses delegates at the level of various Chinese local provinces.

  Through my new analysis and linking theoretically and practically between thought, theory and practice, to manage the ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing, even at the sporting level, such as Washington’s boycott of the “Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022”, this can lead us to a theoretical analysis and understanding about the causes of this growing tensions between China and the United States of America, which have been (resulting from deep and long-term transformations in the current international system, and its transition from the era of globalization to the stage of strategic competition between the two major powers). 

  Therefore, it has become necessary for the United States of America to “practically” to stop interfering in the internal affairs of countries and primarily of China, by using the “ideological dimensions ” to confront others, or its attempt to (the renewal of the leadership of the United States of America for the freedom camp in the face of the tyrannical and authoritarianism camp).

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East Asia

The Global (Dis) Order Warfare: The Chinese Way

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Since the ascension of Xi Jinping, two important developments have come to dominate the global headlines. One, the so-called wolf diplomacy of China has been on the forefront of global political relations and two, there has been a huge spurt in Chinese efforts to use disinformation and espionage, as a part of its global diplomatic-strategic plans to destabilise countries who it sees as rival or a threat, in more than one ways.

Suddenly, there are instances of greater violence, instability and conflict in countries and regions that could be considered as political/economic/military rivals or likely competitors to China. In the US, FBI has reported an increase of 1300 percent in economic espionage investigations with almost 90 percent cases having a Chinese military/government background. On an average, the US has reported registering of a new counter espionage case against China, every 12 hours. A recent report suggested the operation of about 250 MMS Chinese spies in Brussels, the capital of European Union.

 In Australia that has a continuing run-in with China in recent times, there have been instances of Chinese overt/covert interference in political/economic domain. In the UK, a highest level confirmation came in from the Home Secretary Priti Patel that confirmed the MI5 report of a Chinese government agent working in the British parliament to subvert democratic process and promote Chinese interests.

In India in particular which is virtually in a state of no-peace, no-war with China for the last 21-months, following a bloody conflict at Galwan (in which 20 Indian and 44 Chinese soldiers killed, though Chinese did not accept casualties for a long time.), the situation is quite favourable to the massive Chinese interference. The Modi-led Indian government is working at a furious pace on various fronts, economic, political, diplomatic and strategic. And that is something that is not convenient to Chinese interests.

The Chinese since 1950s have been used to an Indian government, timid and submissive and more receptive to their interests than protecting national interests of India. A big example of this self-defeating, servile and pro-communist mental make-up has been the Nehru’s support to China for a permanent UNSC seat, even in 1963 after the Indo-China war in the previous year. Successive governments since then have been following the same thinking and policy in the name of ‘continuation of foreign policy’, irrespective of changes in the government.

Hence, when Doklam happened in 2017 and Indian government for a change, showed courage and stood up against the ‘self-proclaimed super power China’ to protect the territories of a friendly Bhutan, the middle kingdom got the shock of the decade. It was used to have a southern neighbour who in spite of decades of supporting terrorism in country’s north-east, supporting Pakistani terrorism, never faced China head-on. And that brought about a change in the Chinese perception and strategic calculations vis-à-vis India.

Since Doklam face-off between India and China, the latter has been playing all games with the clear objective of preventing its rise in the word order. For reasons better known to European politicians, for some years there has been no effort from their side to compete and prevent China from spreading its aggressive strategic-diplomatic policies around the world.

Its genesis could be seen in the passive Obama-led US policy of playing a second fiddle to China. No wonder, during the eight years of Obama administration, China was not only able to strengthen its politico-strategic grip over parts of Asia and Africa but came very close to attack Taiwan. Had it not been the sudden deterioration of US-China relations during the Trump era, probably the world map could have been changed so far, particularly in the south China Sea region.

The passive Obama administration allowed China to grow impressively on the trade-economic front and emerge as the manufacturing hub of the world. It also remained indecisive, letting China develop a huge trade surplus vis-à-vis the US. And the biggest flip came when is spite of being fully aware of the likely catastrophic implications and the debt-trap strategy of the Chinese showpiece Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it neither discouraged smaller nations nor took a stand against it.

India was the only country that spoke overtly against the concept and remained out of the BRI, even at the cost of antagonising China. Today, the world is witness to the debt trap that Chinese BRI has brought about for many countries like Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Laos, Mongolia, Zambia, Montenegro, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and a few others. This grim economic scenario is almost certain to compel such countries to part with their political and economic sovereignty that could well be a 21st century model of Chinese imperialism.

Such explicit Indian opposition to China and its likely emergence as a political, economic and military rival, led China to create a host of internal disturbances in the country. It is interesting to see that most of the damning criticism against Indian government for the past three-four years are emanating from Indian intellectuals living in the US/Europe for decades and are overtly/covertly left-leaning.

Similarly, the journalists, intellectuals, academicians in India who criticise and abuse the government are having a leftist background, many of them have a record of visiting China in recent past. Some of the politicians, including the de facto opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is said to have had midnight meetings with Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi. The Chinese government has also provided funds to the main Indian National Congress (INC) opposition party, a few years ago. Some media reports suggested that was one of the reasons for INC’s pressure on the previous Dr Manmohan Singh and current Modi governments, to join the Chinese dominated trade block Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The Chinese efforts to politically subvert the democratic countries has become more blatant. The recent anti-India resolutions in the British Parliament could well be seen in the context of MI5 report confirming the presence of Chinese agents in British legislature. In Australia, the reported offer by Chinese to Nick Zhao to run for Australian parliament as a Liberal Party member and recent statement of an apparent Chinese defector Wang Liqinag suggesting that Chinese agents are ‘operating with impunity in Australia’, need to be seen in this context.

And beyond all this politico-diplomatic moves, there have been credible reports of Chinese cyber-attacks on US, India, UK, Taiwan, Australia and others who it sees as rivals. India in the last one year, witnessed a 261 percent rise in Chinese cyber-attacks against military, scientific, banking, telecommunication systems.

To make matters worse, a detailed analysis of individuals occupying important positions in government/international organisations reveals that a few of them do have some or the other sort of Chinese support that has affected their actions or lack of it, vis-à-vis China. The tremendous suffering that the world and humanity have to endure due to Corona, clearly occurred due to deliberate or ineptness of Chinese government/military/scientific community. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has failed to fix accountability for this pandemic on China.

All such development clearly points towards a Chinese strategy to create a global disorder, a state where democracies like the US, India, Australia, Japan, Europe, Taiwan will not be able to stand unitedly and make way for the ascent of the middle kingdom to the pinnacle of global political, economic and military hierarchy. 

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East Asia

Rebuilding the World Order

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Image: Alexandra Nicolae/Unsplash

Many in the West believe China’s economic ascendancy indicates that Beijing is covertly working to usher in a new world order in which the balance of power has shifted.

History shows that changes in the world order are inevitable, but they are not happening as quickly as some analysts think. For example, the rise of the US to the world’s primary geopolitical position took nearly half a century, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. France’s rise to domination over western Europe in the 17th century was also a long and arduous process.

In these as well as many other cases from ancient and medieval times, the rise of a new power was facilitated by stagnation, gradual decline, and military confrontation among the various existing powers.
For instance, the US was already powerful in the early 20th century, but it was the infighting during the two world wars among the European powers that brought down the edifice of the Europe-led world order and opened a path for American ascendancy.

But while it is possible to identify the changing winds of the world order through various analytical methods, it is much harder to find ways to preserve an existing order. It requires a whole constellation of leaders from competing sides to grasp the severity of the threat posed by radical change and to pursue measures together to cool down tensions.

The key question that needs to be addressed is whether the West still possesses the necessary political, economic, and military tools to uphold the existing world order and not allow it to slip into chaos, as the world’s leaders mistakenly did in the first half of the 20th century.

The successful preservation of an existing world order is a rare event in history. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, European leaders gathered to build a long-lasting peace. They saw that the French power, though soundly defeated under Napoleon I, needed to be accommodated within the new fabric of the European geopolitical order. This meant not only inviting French representatives to conferences, but offering military and economic cooperation as well as concessions to the French to limit their political grievances.

In other words, European diplomats had an acute understanding of post-French Revolution geopolitics and understood the need to build a long-lasting security architecture through balance of power.
But such approaches are unusual. Perhaps the shock of the bloody Napoleonic Wars, as well as the presence of such brilliant diplomats such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, and Alexander I, assured the success of the new order.

It is far more common that challenges to the world order lead to direct military confrontation. Failure to accommodate Germany in the early 20th century led in part to WWI, and the errant diplomacy of the Treaty of Versailles led in part to WWII. The list goes on.

China’s rise to power is another case for study. The country is poised to become a powerful player in international politics thanks to its economic rise and concurrent military development. Beijing has strategic imperatives that clash with those of the US. It needs to secure procurement of oil and gas resources, which are currently most readily available through the Strait of Malacca. In an age of US naval dominance, the Chinese imperative is to redirect its economy’s dependence, as well as its supply routes, elsewhere.

That is the central motivation behind the almost trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to reconnect the Asia-Pacific with Europe through Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. At the same time, Beijing has a growing ambition to thwart US naval dominance off Chinese shores.
In view of these factors, mutual suspicion between Beijing and Washington is bound to increase over the next years and decades.

Thus, we find ourselves within a changing world order. What is interesting is what the US (or the West collectively) can do to salvage the existing order.

From the US side, a strengthening of existing US-led alliance systems with Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific states could help to retain American influence in Eurasia. Specifically, it would enable the US to limit Russia’s, Iran’s, and possibly China’s actions in their respective neighborhoods.

Another powerful measure to solidify the existing world order would be to increase Washington’s economic footprint across Eurasia. This could be similar to the Marshall Plan, with which the US saved Europe economically and attached it to the US economy. New economic measures could be even more efficient and long-lasting in terms of strengthening Western influence across Eurasia.

But no matter what economic and military moves the US makes with regard to allies such as South Korea, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others, any attempt to uphold the existing world order without China’s cooperation would be short-lived and would echo the way Germany was cast out of the Versailles negotiations, which served only to create a grievance in Berlin and prompt clandestine preparations for a new conflict. In a way, the West’s current problems with Russia can also be explained this way: Moscow was cast out of the post-Cold War order, which caused worry and a degree of revanchism among the Russian elites.

Without China’s inclusion in the world order, no feasible security conditions can be laid out. To be preserved, the world order must be adjusted to rising challenges and new opportunities. Many Western diplomats are uncomfortable dealing with China, but casting Beijing in the role of direct competitor would not solve the problem, nor would giving it large concessions, which would be too risky.
What is required is a middle road, a means of allowing China to participate in an adjusted world order in which some of its interests are secured. Only that will increase the chances for long-lasting security in Eurasia.

Pulling this off will require an incredible effort from Western and Chinese diplomats. It remains to be seen whether they will be more successful than their predecessors were in the early 20th century and other periods of history.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia today

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