The China-Arab States Expo recently held its fifth session in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Province. Through this exhibition and other events, China aims to strengthen China-Arab relations and jointly advance high-quality bilateral cooperation in building the Belt and Road. This exhibition constitutes an opportunity for more joint cooperation and the creation of new spaces for development between the two sides. This year, more than 1,000 companies registered to participate in the exhibition’s virtual events and on the ground. About 239 companies showcased their products and their latest innovations on the exhibition floor, which covers an area of about 12,000 square meters. Major companies, including “Huawei”, “JD.com” and 38 other of the world’s 500 most powerful companies, in addition to the 500 most powerful companies in China and industry-leading companies, were present at the exhibition, and the total number of visitors exceeded 10 million, including 120,000 visitors from abroad to view the exhibitions online.
In a message on the occasion of the exhibition, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that the traditional friendship between the Chinese and Arab peoples is gaining momentum with the passage of time, and that in recent years, China and Arab countries have constantly strengthened strategic coordination and exchange of measures, and achieved cooperation in the joint construction of the “Belt and Road”. He mentioned that China and Arab countries have combined efforts to combat the epidemic in light of the outbreak of the new mutated variants of covid-19 virus, and set a model for mutual assistance and overcoming difficulties in a spirit of synergy and solidarity, stressing that his country is ready to work with Arab countries to seek cooperation and development, and jointly promote peaceful development, especially since Beijing remains the largest trading partner of Arab countries.
Within the framework of the exhibition’s activities, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, indicated that the exhibition represents a platform to strengthen the trade and economic relationship with China, especially since China is one of the largest trading partners of the UAE, explaining that the volume of non-oil trade between the two countries amounted to 74.4 billion US dollars. In 2020, including imports worth $39.3 billion, and the volume of non-oil exports amounting to $2.7 billion; China is the third largest investor in the UAE, as the volume of Chinese investment in the UAE until 2020 amounted to more than $5.4 billion. The UAE minister added that his country will continue to create an environment for the development of investment and trade, and will push the growth of global trade by strengthening the establishment of infrastructure, more particularly in the field of transport and logistics, especially since his country is ready for this step because it possesses the most advanced facilities and technologies in the world in this field, calling to continue explore areas that promote economic growth between the two countries, stressing that the UAE is witnessing a shift towards a more flexible and sustainable model that creates a huge opportunity in various fields.
The exhibition covers many fields, including clean energy, digital economy, healthcare, cross-border e-commerce, in addition to virtual exhibition events based on technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing. This exhibition is an opportunity to enhance the historical cooperation between China and the Arabs, which existed through the Silk Road and is renewed through the Belt and Road Initiative. To date, China has signed cooperation documents within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative with 19 Arab countries as well as with the League of Arab States. This exhibition is an opportunity for Arab governments, trade organizations and institutions to open up to China and create more joint cooperation. The exhibition is a platform for China and the Arab countries to achieve the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, as China has become a major economic partner for most Arab countries through huge trade exchanges. China has 250 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries, which is equivalent to half of the country’s total crude oil imports over the past year.
At the national level, eight cooperative projects were signed at the exhibition, with a total investment of 11.18 billion Yuan, including the integrated smart energy investment project in the Red Sea. Eight provinces and cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Henan and Guangdong, signed 12 investment projects with Arab countries and other countries along the Belt and Road, with a total investment of 7.43 billion Yuan. Since the launch of China-Arab states expo in 2013, the biennial exhibition has attracted more than 5,000 companies from nearly 110 countries. In 2019, 287 deals worth about 185.4 billion Yuan were signed during the activities of the fourth edition of the fair. Data released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce indicate that Arab countries’ imports from China amounted to 122.9 billion US dollars last year, an increase of 2.1 percent year on year.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said the China-Arab Expo is an important platform for China and Arab countries to jointly build the Belt and Road Initiative. A total of 277 partnership contracts were signed in this exhibition, with a total investment of 156.67 billion Yuan (about 24 billion dollars), during the exhibition, investments of about 154 billion Yuan were collected to support 199 projects, while 24 commercial projects worth 2.75 billion Yuan were signed during the exhibition. The increasing partnerships between Arab governments and institutions and China fully demonstrates the strong vitality of China and Arab countries to jointly seek cooperation and development, achieve mutual benefit and win-win results, and jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality.
The Chinese government’s special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, said that the China-Arab Expo has played an active role in promoting cooperation between the two sides in building the “Belt and Road” since its establishment in 2013, and has become an important platform for communicating development needs and deepening economic and trade cooperation. He stressed that Sino-Arab relations are like a steadfast tree against storms and major changes that the world has not witnessed for a hundred years with the pandemic of the century, which brought unprecedented repercussions on humanity, which provided a model for relations between the countries of the world and an example for south-south cooperation, adding that the two sides are working hard on maintaining sovereignty, independence, equality and the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, defending the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, exchanging support in the conditions of the covid outbreak, providing preventive supplies, exchanging experiences via the internet, urgently dispatching medical teams, and cooperating in the clinical trial of the vaccine and joint production of vaccine packaging, Which embodied the brotherly feelings of solidarity in the spirit of one team in concrete steps.
The Chinese government’s special envoy to the Middle East added that his country has provided nearly 100 million doses of the Chinese vaccine to Arab countries as grants and exports, and has achieved fruitful cooperation with both Egypt and the UAE in the joint production of the vaccine, which provided strong assistance in the battle against the pandemic, stressing that it in the first half of this year, the volume of trade exchange between China and the Arab countries amounted to 144.27 billion US dollars, an increase of 25.7% year on year, which made China the largest trading partner of the Arab countries. It also imported 130 million tons of crude oil from Arab countries, thus making the Arabs the largest suppliers of crude oil to China, and cooperation between the two sides has made progress, in the fields of fifth-generation communications, big data, aviation and space, artificial intelligence and other advanced and modern technology, noting that there is huge potential for the development of the green economy in China and the Arab countries, and that cooperation has developed in the fields of solar energy, nuclear energy and other clean energy, which contributes to building the “Green Silk Road”.
He also noted that it is important in the next stage to continue to intensify high-level exchanges between China and the Arabs, deepen strategic communication, and continue to exchange firm support on issues related to vital interests and major concerns, while raising the banner of non-interference in internal affairs, and promoting unity, self-strengthening, solidarity and cooperation, and defending international justice and equity, and defending the interests of developing countries. Zhai Jun called for continuing to devote the spirit of solidarity to combat the pandemic, stressing that his country will do its best to meet the needs of Arab countries for Chinese vaccines, deepen cooperation in joint production of vaccines and local production, and the categorical rejection of politicizing the issue of tracing the origin of the virus in a way that helps achieve the dream of the renaissance for both nations.
Zhao Yongqing, permanent deputy head of the government of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, said that on the basis of institutional activities, the fifth China-Arab States Expo brought together the needs of China and Arab countries and what Ningxia could achieve. This exhibition resulted in the innovative creation of the China-Arab Energy Cooperation Summit Forum, Water Resources Forum, Clean Energy New Materials Exhibition, Digital Economy Exhibition, and Cross-Border E-Commerce Exhibition and so on, which built bridges for various institutions to participate in cooperation and investment within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
It is remarkable that all the pavilions of the China and Arab Countries Exhibition are green and environmentally friendly private booths, with extensive use of the interaction of information, technologies and digital display methods, to achieve simultaneous display on the internet and on the ground, and the overall design highlights the international level and the concept of modern and contemporary design. This year’s exhibition used the latest information technology to achieve exhibition viewing via 5G technology, where the audience can view the exhibition site in real time through 360-degree panoramic views and through virtual reality glasses on site, leading to simultaneous exhibitions online and on the field.
According to reports from the exhibition, the previous four sessions of the China and Arab States Expo, a total of 112 countries and regions, 21 Chinese and foreign senior officials, 283 foreign ministers and guests, more than 5,000 domestic and foreign companies, and more than 40,000 visitors have witnessed the previous sessions. A total of 936 economic and trade cooperation projects were signed. The signed projects include modern agriculture, high-tech, energy and chemical engineering, biopharmaceuticals, equipment manufacturing, infrastructure, industrial park construction, “internet + medical health”, tourism cooperation and other areas.
A number of Sino-Arab bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies have settled in Ningxia, including the China-Arab Center for Technology Transfer, the China-Arab Center for Agricultural Technology Transfer, and the Secretariat of the China-Arab Trade Mediation Center. This session of the exhibition achieved fruitful results in new areas of economic and trade cooperation. China Gezhouba Group Co., Ltd. and the management company of Tianjin Changsha Taida Industrial Park, signed cooperation projects on 5G, artificial intelligence, aerospace and others with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and other countries and regions, effectively expanding the areas of economic and trade cooperation between China and Arab countries.
While the Emirati pavilion relied on the yellow color, symbol of the desert that characterizes the country, and the blue color that symbolizes the sea, in reference to the wide coasts it enjoys, the Moroccan pavilion was “completely digital” highlighting the characteristics of Morocco and its rich and multiple cultures. Chairman of the Association of African-Chinese Cooperation for Development in Morocco, Nasser Bouchiba, stressed that the exhibition is an important platform for strengthening cooperation between China and Arab countries, whether during the pandemic or after, explaining that all countries will face the effects of the slowdown in global economic growth, but the Chinese and Arabs, if they join hands and focus on economic and trade cooperation, will not be affected.
Thus, they will set an example in international economic and trade cooperation and give confidence to the process of global economic recovery, calling on Arab governments and commercial institutions, to seize this good opportunity to fully understand the Chinese market, and to actively work on marketing high-quality products, explaining that the geographical environment of the Arab world may provide opportunities to cooperate in the field of agriculture, where there are long stretches of beaches and large areas of deserts. The cultivation of oases is a lifeline for the development of people’s living conditions. The agricultural cooperative project between Morocco, China and France in the Erfoud Oasis in Morocco has achieved abundant fruits in this regard.
The Economic Conundrum of Pakistan
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is due to convene on 20th September 2021. The Monetary policy Committee (MPC) will be announcing its policy rate after retaining it since March 2020. As the world deals with the uncertainty of the delta variant along with the dilemma between inflation and growth, it is a plenary to watch as Pakistani policymakers would join heads to decide the stance on the economic situation. However, the decision would be a tough one. Primarily because the mixed signals could either lead to burgeoning inflation and subsequent financial deterioration or they should guide the central bank to strangulate the growth prematurely. Either way, the policymakers would have to be cautious about the degree of inclination they lean to each side of the argument – economic contraction or growth with inflation.
A poll conducted by Topline Research shows that about 65% of the financial market participants expect status quo; the MPC to maintain the policy rate at 7% to further accommodate economic growth. Pakistan has barely mustered a 4% growth rate after the contraction of 0.4% last year. In this regard, Mr. Mustafa Mustansir, head of Research at Taurus Securities, stated: Visible signs of demand-side pressure are still quite weak. In another survey conducted by Policy Research Unit (PRU): a policy advisory board of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), 84% of the market participants believe there will be no change in the policy rate. The sentiment implies that the researchers and the business community don’t expect a rate hike in this week’s policy meeting.
However, the macroeconomic indicators paint a bleak picture for Pakistan’s economy: warranting a tougher policy response. The external trade figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) project a debilitating situation for the national exchequer. According to the data, Pakistan’s trade deficit has increased to $7.5 billion in the first two months (July-August) of the fiscal year 2021-22. The deficit stands at $4.1 billion: 120% higher than the same period last year. Due to the accommodative policies implemented by the government of Pakistan, the trade deficit has already climbed 26% up to the annual target of $28.4 billion, set in the fiscal budget 2021-22. Despite excessive subsidies, the bi-monthly exports have only grown by 28% to stand at $4.6 billion. And while it is an increase of nearly a billion dollars compared to the same months in the preceding year, the imports have more than perforated the balance of payments.
During the July-August period, the imports have grown by a whopping 73% to stand at $12.1 billion: 22% of the annualized target. What’s more worrisome is the fact that despite a free-float currency mechanism, the exports have failed to turn competitive in the global market. According to the data released by PBS, Pakistan’s exports have dropped from their previous levels for three consecutive months. And despite a 39% net currency depreciation in the past three years, the exports continue to drift sluggish around the $2 billion/month mark. Yet, the imports are accelerating beyond expectation: clocking a 95% increase last month alone. Clearly, something is not working.
Moreover, while the forex reserves with the State Bank stand at a record high of around $20 billion, the rapid depreciation in the rupee is gradually damaging the financial viability of Pakistan. According to Mettis Global, a web-based financial data and analytics portal, the rupee recently slipped to its all-time low of 168.95 against the greenback. While the currency reserves are at their peak, the rupee continues its losing streak as the State bank has refrained from intervening in the forex market to artificially buoy the currency. Primarily because the IMF program stands contingent on letting the rupee float and find equilibrium. As a result, the rupee is touted to breach the 170 rupees against the US dollar mark by next month. The bankers around Pakistan have urged the State Bank for an intervention to put an end to “abnormal volatility in spite of increased reserves.” However, an intervention seems highly unlikely as the SBP Governor, Dr. Reza Baqir, already warned regarding currency devaluation in the last policy meeting: citing supply constraints, debt repayments, and increased imports as primary reasons for the temporal slump.
Nonetheless, almost 10% of the market participants, according to the survey, expect a rate hike of 50 basis points in the policy rate to hedge against inflation. Furthermore, analysts at Topline Securities expect a hike of 25 basis points to counter “vulnerabilities in the current account and control inflationary pressures.” Regardless of the prudent beliefs in the market, however, a few players actually believe that a rate cut of 50-100 basis points is plausible in the meeting. They argue that while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – a national inflation measure – refuses to let down, the core inflation of Pakistan has dropped perpetually down to 6.3% in August. A stratum of the business community, therefore, also believes that the policy rate should be gradually brought down to 5% to match the regional dynamics.
I somehow find this notion ironic, as the government has already doled billions of dollars in subsidies, provided lucrative loans, and slashed taxes periodically. Yet, the exports have stayed relatively redundant. While it may not be the most effective time to hike the policy rate and tighten the monetary policy, in my opinion, a cut in the policy rate would be detrimental – catastrophic for the current account and incendiary for prevailing inflation.
Global Revolution in the Crypto World: Road to Legalization
The raging popularity of virtual currencies is hardly unheard of in today’s day and age. If not by the damning crackdown in China, price swings in cryptocurrencies – especially bitcoin – are definitely deemed perpetual and inherent: unlikely to go away. And while the volatility does bring along a unique thrill to retail investors, the experienced pundits of the financial world are expectedly skeptical. Regardless of the apparent discomfort and resistance to tap into the pool of virtual currencies, policymakers across the world are aware that the future is digital. Therefore, while digital fiat seems to be the direction of most developed economies to counter the decentralized giants, the economic gurus are preparing to harness the mania on another front as well – before the craze overtakes the globe.
The first – and most popular – cryptocurrency is undoubtedly bitcoin. In the aftermath of China’s crackdown on mining activities, bitcoin lost more than half of its valuation. However, acceptance around the world in the past few weeks has helped the currency to buoy past the slump. Bitcoin currently stands at a market cap of $863.8 billion: flirting with the $46,000 mark. Naturally, the rest of the crypto world flows in tandem as fanatics have placed bets for the currency to breach the $50,000 psychological mark again in the following months. However, the rally is largely attributed to the blooming acceptance by governments around the world; something the officials were wary of to avoid risks and uncertainty. However, I still don’t understand the change of perception given the market is more volatile than ever.
Last week’s headlines were all about El Salvador and its adoption of bitcoin as a legal tender. The fiasco that followed was hardly a surprise. Though the incident bolstered the crypto critics, the event projected nothing that was a mystery before the launch. A glitch in the virtual wallet, called “Chivo Wallet,” was one of the countless impediments that had already been warranted as risky by economists around the globe. While the problem was resolved in a matter of hours, the price of bitcoin nosedived by 19% from the 4-month high of $53,000. President Nayib Bukele boasted about “buying at a dip” yet overlooked a crucial aspect from a broader perspective. He failed to realize that a minor glitch in his small nation was significant enough to send the currency spiraling; that in mere hours, billions of dollars were wiped from the global market. All because the app couldn’t appear on the designated platforms for a few hours.
What happened in El Salvador is a vital example to analyze. The resulting confusion is exactly why a passage of regulation is being placed. If the domestic and international markets are to rely upon cryptocurrencies in the near future, then the need for a detailed framework becomes even more amplified.
Recently, Ukraine became the fifth country in weeks to legalize bitcoin. However, while the Ukrainian parliament adopted a bill to legalize the cryptocurrency, regulations are put into place to handle its precarious and volatile nature. Unlike the loose move by El Salvador, Ukraine did not facilitate a rollout of bitcoin as a form of payment. Moreover, the parliament has refrained from placing bitcoin on an equal footing with Hryvnia – Ukraine’s national currency. Primarily because adding another currency prone to unprecedented and wild swings in value could prove complex in policymaking matters including drafting fiscal budgets and taxation planning. And while Kyiv is pushing to lean further into bitcoin to gain more access to global investment, the authorities are prudent. Therefore, unlike the brazen entry by El Salvador, the Ukrainian authorities are underscoring a strategy to learn about the crypto world before bitcoin is etched into Ukrainian law forever.
Meanwhile, the United States is proving rather stringent against the rise of bitcoin – and the crypto world – as nightmares of another financial crisis are caging a progressive adoption. The lawmakers are already vigilant to put braces on the market before it blooms beyond control. The Infrastructure Bill recently passed by the senate provides a hint of direction being adopted by the US legislators. The tax provision, estimated to collect $28 billion over a decade, has been placed as a regulation of the crypto market that stands at a valuation of $2 trillion. The Treasury directives are driven to mobilize the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to tax crypto brokers while monitoring mandated reporting requirements. The goal is obvious: gradually tighten the screws before regulating the uncharted territory as any other capital market. However, the bill is purposefully vague regarding market actors deemed as brokers under the new law. Naturally, the frenzy follows as miners are left scrambling to define the meaning of a broker in an extremely complex and unorthodox market mechanism. It is clear that prominent lawmakers, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, are the main driving forces to put a leash on the emerging market.
Furthermore, the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been vocal about Treasury’s long-awaited intervention in the crypto market. Allegedly the virtual currencies have come across as a key tool for tax evasion in the United States. Therefore, much of the lobbying to amend the tax provision in the infrastructure bill is to limit the strictness of application rather than simplifying the vague terminologies. Moreover, the Treasury Department has also been active in discussing the financial stability of Stablecoin – crypto assets pegged to the US dollar and other fiat currencies. While extreme volatility is not a risk in this scenario, the Federal agencies – particularly the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) – have been keen to set tougher regulations over the market with more than $120 billion in circulation. The move has been swift since the tax provision made its way into the Senate debate. The main intent to regulate stablecoin – particularly Tether – is to harness the market, primarily because the sector acts as an unregulated money market mutual fund holding massive amounts of corporate debt. A plunge in price is enough of a spark to send ripples through the fixed income markets: posing a financial threat to the entire market. Thus, the FSOC is touted to be mobilized soon to probe and regulate the market as it continues to grow.
The crypto world has been cited by global lenders such as IMF as a haven for money laundering and tax frauds. Such tags could lead to negative credit ratings and ineligibility to gain investment and aid packages, especially when debt-ridden countries like El Salvador dabble along without any fixed legal framework. However, with broader regulation, like the steps taken by the US and Ukraine, the risk could be minimized. Another area is to initiate with experienced investors before gradually easing market restrictions for retail investors. A prime example is Germany which recently allowed institutional investors to invest as much as 20% of their holdings in bitcoin and other crypto-assets. While the portion still congregates to billions of dollars, such deft institutional investors are trained enough to manage and monitor trillions of dollars in a vast array of capital markets. Moreover, such large-scale institutional investment firms already have strict regulatory requirements and thus, by default, are bound to consciously maintain conservative holdings.
In my opinion, the crypto market is the financial future of the technological utopia we aspire to build. The smart choice, therefore, is to learn the system down to its spine. Correct the loopholes and irregularities while monitoring experienced professionals participating in an open market. Sketch and amend the legalities and a financial framework along the way. And gradually let the market settle as second nature.
CPEC: Challenges & Future Prospects
Global economy paradigm is shifting from the West to the East while China is torch bearer in this context with it’s master stroke OBOR project. The beauty of this unique project is that it provides a new trade corridor and a new route to at least 60 countries. If we make an educated guess, then about 80% of the world population would get benefit from this project. This project can be divided into “Silk Road economic belt” and Maritime silk road”. For disbursement of funds, five financial institutions are opened so that the complete burden should not fall on China. Now it has been a proven fact that the US, few Western countries and India are lobbying and conspiring against the OBOR project.
The most important project of this initiative is CPEC as it gives China access to the most important geo-strategic location of Gwadar that had always been dream of Russia and NATO for their strategic, military and economic interests in the region. The only project which gives landlocked countries access to the sea. CPEC certainly can be game changer due to its potential of creating mass industrial productivity, exports, and job creation not only for Pakistan but for entire South Asian region.
Due to various factors, there are always chances that mistrust may prevail among Pakistan and China, which can have a direct impact on Pakistan’s economy. The economy plays a fundamental role in the development and strengthening of any country, but unfortunately, Pakistan was unable to stabilize this sector for decades. As soon as the situation becomes better, another incident of unrest happens. Attacks like the Dasu hydropower plant in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or like Serena Hotel Quetta are preplanned efforts of our enemies like India to destabilize the project. Although, it has been accepted by Chinese think tanks on various occasions that the security situation has improved in Pakistan during the recent few years.
Luckily, due to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Indian investment is also dying. There is no doubt that the economic stability that Pakistan will achieve after the completion of CPEC cannot be digested by an eternal enemy like India. India is intensifying its covert operations against CPEC, as its discomfort is growing day by day with the cozying Pak-China relations. Modi’s government believes that once operational, CPEC will reduce its sphere of influence in Central Asia, IIOJ&K, and Afghanistan. The terrorist network formulated in Afghanistan to create unrest in Pakistan under the garb of diplomatic activities has also been jeopardized. As CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan which India claims as a disputed territory but their claim was rejected out rightly by Pakistan and China. Now India may try to reinstate its sleeper cells inside Pakistan to disrupt CPEC.
CPEC in particular offers a win-win situation for participating nations and it has a strong component of social development, poverty alleviation, and demographic uplift, unlike similar programs offered by other international donors. CPEC would not impact its balance of payments of Pakistan at any stage. The payment schedule is very relaxed. It’s about geo-economics and the establishment of a non-exploitable economic system. Another point is that CPEC is a transparent project with all its details present on its websites. The projects of CPEC are not only confined to specific areas but its network is present in the whole of Pakistan.
Although, it’s correct that Pakistan has a risky security environment, but Pakistan has taken various positive steps in this regard like raising two “Security Divisions” in Pakistan Army, incorporating special paramilitary forces, increasing intelligence apparatus, and improving local police networks.
There are eight main core areas linked with CPEC which are ‘integrated transportation system’, ‘information network infrastructure’, cooperation in ‘energy related’ fields, ‘trade and industrial parks’, ‘agricultural development and poverty alleviation, ‘tourism’, ‘social development and non-government exchanges’ and lastly ‘financial cooperation’. CPEC is now attracting other countries around the world who are also expressing their desire to join it.
In present circumstances, the CPEC projects must be completed as soon as possible so that Pakistan’s geographical location can be truly exploited. Our narrative building part is weaker in International media as India and other lobbies are floating a huge bulk of anti-CPEC stories with fake facts and figures, we have to give proper rebuttal and our side of the story must be backed with verified facts and figures. Another point to be focused on is that a prosperous Balochistan would strengthen CPEC’s foundation. This is a real game-changer and we have to engage maximum countries of the world in this project to get moral, social, and financial support.
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