VIF News Digest: ASEAN, Indo-Pacific, East Asia, Japan, Korean Peninsula and Taiwan | Vivekananda International Foundation
VIF News Digest: ASEAN, Indo-Pacific, East Asia, Japan, Korean Peninsula and Taiwan

February 16 - March 31, 2018



Australia and ASEAN sign Sydney Declaration
India and Vietnam converge on the South China Sea
Philippines and China explore potential areas of cooperation in the South China Sea
Australia and Vietnam sign strategic partnership agreement
Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has sweeping victory in Senate elections


France and Britain send naval deployment to Indo-Pacific
US Aircraft Carrier heads to Vietnam


Signing and Exchange of Notes Concerning Yen Loans to India
Another controversy for Abe: Ministry finds GSDF logs about Iraq despite earlier denial in Diet
Abe calls for foreign employment review to increase skilled workers
Japan to host G-20 Osaka summit on June 28-29 next year
Abe to visit US for talks with Trump on April 17-20
Japan GSDF sees biggest shake-up amid N. Korea, China tensions
PM Abe to visit Russia on May 26: Russian deputy PM
LDP panel decides on Article 9 revision proposal amid predictions of resistance
Japan approves bills to ratify successor to TPP free trade pact
Japan- China- S. Korea summit eyed for early May
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not involved in land sale cover-up, says official
Japan, Sri Lanka agree to promote maritime security cooperation


North Korea
North Korea's nuclear reactor shows signs of operation: 38 North
Kim Jong-un, Trump to meet in May
Moon-Kim summit to be held April 27
Surprise Xi-Kim Summit
N. Korea tightens economic controls at home as it steps up charm offensive abroad
South Korea
US and South Korea begin low-key ‘Foal Eagle’ military drills amid diplomatic thaw with North
US, South Korea overhaul 6-year-old free trade agreement


US Senate passes Taiwan Travel Act
State Department Official Visits
National People’s Congress 2018: China President Xi Jinping warns Taiwan will face 'punishment of history' for separatism


Australia and ASEAN sign Sydney Declaration

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit saw the signature of the Sydney Declaration that highlighted convergences on committing to working together to shape a secure and prosperous region and strengthening security to address pertinent issues such as cyber security and counter-terrorism. Australia and ASEAN signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation to Counter International Terrorism.

Philippines president Duterte refused to attend the ASEAN-Australia summit in light of the criticisms against its severe crackdown in drug-related crimes emerging from Australia and the West. There were also issues with Cambodian President Hun Sen’s visit, as the contentious elections in Phnom Penh were also reflected in protests from the Cambodian diaspora in Australia of the shutdown of the opposition. However, the overall outcome of the summit was fruitful in highlighting the importance of cooperating in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure mutual interests in regional stability. [Back to Contents ]

India and Vietnam converge on the South China Sea

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang held delegation level talks to enhance defence and security cooperation in the region. India and Vietnam underlined the importance of freedom of navigation and over flight over the South China Sea, while emphasizing the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes in the Indo-Pacific region. India-Vietnam relations have largely remained cordial in relations. However, convergences have increased over the years over shared concerns of Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. [Back to Contents ]

Philippines and China explore potential areas of Co-operation in the South China Sea
Philippines and China located two sites in the South China Sea for joint exploration for oil and gas, including an area which has been disputed by both countries. A joint panel has been agreed that aims to address mutual cooperation in the contested region without addressing disputes over sovereignty. The areas of cooperation identified under the service contracts of 57 and 72 in Manila, in a bid to utilize the energy resources of the South China Sea. The exploration will be conducted by PXP Energy Corporation for Philippines and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC). The initiative is indicative of the building rapprochement between China and Philippines, although experts have doubts about implementation. [Back to Contents ]

Australia and Vietnam sign Strategic Partnership Agreement

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed a strategic partnership in Canberra aimed at enhancing security, defense, trade, investment, development and tourism. The signing was conducted in the aftermath of the ASEAN-Australia summit, where convergences on the rising concerns over regional stability, increasing militarization in the region and promoting a secure, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific was emphasized. The 2017 Defence White Paper of Australia outlined Vietnam as a key strategic partner and raised concerns of the construction of artificial islands and increased militarization in the South China Sea. [Back to Contents ]

Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has sweeping victory in Senate Elections

The ruling party in Cambodia won 58 out of 62 seats in the Senate elections, though the results are criticized as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was suppressed in an intense crackdown. The elections have received widespread condemnation from international organisations such as the UN and the West, which has served to bring Hun Sen, leader of CPP closer to China. [Back to Contents ]


France and Britain send Naval Deployment to Indo-Pacific

British units and the French naval task force (called the “Jeanne d’Arc”) have send naval deployments for five months towards East Asia and the South Pacific. The stepping up of their naval presence in the Indo-Pacific is seen as an initiative to support the USA in freedom of navigation operations in the region. The convoy fleet is set to sail as far as New Caledonia and French Polynesia while making port visits to Jakarta, Saigon, Bali, Singapore and Darwin. Training with regional navies was also agenda, though chiefly with the US Navy. [Back to Contents ]

US Aircraft Carrier heads to Vietnam

A US aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, made a port call in Danang, the central port of Vietnam. This was the first American visit since the end of the Vietnam War, indicating increasing concerns of China’s rise that has brought together former adversaries in a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape of Indo-Pacific. The Danang port was known to be a major staging post for US far effort in the country. The port visit includes visits to orphanages and victims of Agent Orange. Increasing cooperation between US-Vietnam has been occurring in light of militarization of the South China Sea by China, with Vietnam growing increasingly cautious of the installations and constructions of artificial islands in the region. [Back to Contents ]

Signing and Exchange of Notes Concerning Yen Loans to India

On March 29, Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu, Japanese Ambassador to India, and Mr. Sujan Chinoy, Indian Ambassador to Japan, signed and exchanged notes concerning the provision of four yen loan projects (total loan provision of up to 149.218 billion yen) in the presence of Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Minister for External Affairs of India, in Tokyo following the Japan-India Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue. General untied loans were granted to the following projects at minimal rates for 30 years including a 10-year grace period:-

1) Mumbai Metro Line 3 Project (II) - loan up to 100 billion yen.
2) Project for Construction of Chennai Seawater Desalination Plant - loan up to 30 billion yen.
3) Project for Improvement of Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystems Management and livelihoods - loan up to 11.136 billion yen.
4) Project for Installation of Chennai Metropolitan Area Intelligent Transport Systems - loan up to 8.082 billion yen. [Back to Contents ]

Another Controversy for Abe: Ministry finds GSDF Logs about Iraq despite earlier Denial in Diet

On April 3, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera mentioned activity logs of Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) members dispatched to Iraq were found although his ministry earlier denied their existence in the Parliament. The revelation could deal another blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is under criticism over document falsification by the Finance Ministry in connection with the heavily discounted sale of state land to a school operator, which has raised suspicions of cronyism also involving his wife.

Onodera's predecessor Tomomi Inada resigned last July over a cover-up scandal regarding the activity logs of GSDF peacekeepers sent to South Sudan. Deteriorating security conditions in the African country and risks facing the peacekeepers were being discussed in the Diet at the time. The Ministry on April 2 said it was unable to find the logs concerning Iraq at the request of an opposition lawmaker in February 2017, denying it intended to conceal the logs. "I feel sorry we could not appropriately respond to questions in the Diet," Onodera told reporters. [Back to Contents ]

Abe calls for Foreign Employment Review to Increase Skilled Workers

The government will consider expanding the scope of foreign nationals permitted to work in Japan as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on February 20 for a review of the existing framework amid severe labor shortages. Under the current system, Japan allows skilled foreign nationals to work in certain sectors, drawing a clear distinction from immigration policy. Labor shortages are severe in Japan, especially in the service sector. In 2017, there were 150 job openings for every 100 workers, the most in over four decades. The number of foreign workers has been on the rise in recent years, hitting a record-high of around 1.28 million as of October 2017, recent government data showed.

Foreign nationals are given residential status to work in a range of fields such as education, business management, law and health care. Such workers accounted for around 20 percent of the total while another 20 percent came under a different state program designed to transfer technology to developing countries by giving on-the-job training in Japan, according to the latest data. [Back to Contents ]

Japan to host G-20 Osaka Summit on June 28-29 next year

On April 2, Japanese government mentioned that it will host the summit of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies in Osaka on June 28 to 29 next year as the country assumes the group's rotating presidency for the first time. The G-20 groups Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

In 2019, Japan will see Emperor Akihito abdicate on April 30, followed by his son Crown Prince Naruhito's accession to the throne the next day. Unified local elections are scheduled in April and the House of Councilors election is expected in July. Japan will also host the Rugby World Cup 2019 between September and November. [Back to Contents ]

Abe to visit US for Talks with Trump on April 17-20

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the United States between April 17 and 20 for talks with President Donald Trump about North Korea, with the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North on the agenda. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet. Before that, Kim has arranged a meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae In on April 27. Late last month in March, Kim made a surprise visit to China and held talks with President Xi Jinping. During his meeting with Trump, Abe is also expected to urge the US leader to exempt Tokyo from Washington's stiff new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, according to a Japanese government source. [Back to Contents ]

Japan GSDF sees biggest Shake-up amid North Korea, China Tensions

Japan's GSDF underwent its biggest organizational shake-up on March 27, in the midst of a challenging security environment, with its command streamlined for flexible operations nationwide and the creation of amphibious forces tasked with defending remote islands. Unlike the air and maritime services, the GSDF had no central headquarters to control its units, which belong to five regional armies, each operating under commanding generals. Therefore, orders had to be issued to each regional army to mobilize its divisions and brigades.

Headquartered at the GSDF's Asaka base that straddles Tokyo and Saitama prefectures, the Ground Command Component will play the role of coordinator not only with other Self-Defense Force (SDF) units but also with the US military. The GSDF's first full-scale amphibious operations unit -- the other highlight of the reorganization -- was launched with around 2,100 members mainly drawn from the Western Army's infantry regiment stationed at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. The GSDF amphibious brigade would be tasked with retaking Japanese islands, stretching southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan, if they are contentiously occupied by other countries. [Back to Contents ]

PM Abe to visit Russia on May 26: Russian deputy PM

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to visit Russia on May 26 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Maxim Oreshkin, Russian Minister of Economic Development noting Putin's re-election as president on March 18, said Russia will continue to support the eight-point economic cooperation Abe originally proposed to Putin at their meeting in Russia in May 2016. The two leaders agreed on the cooperation in December that year with Tokyo to provide Moscow with economic assistance in eight fields, including medical care, energy development, and industry promotion in the Russian Far East and personnel exchanges. [Back to Contents ]

LDP Panel decides on Article 9 Revision proposal amid Predictions of Resistance

Veteran Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the ruling party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, received the green light from the headquarters to move forward with a proposal to revise Article 9 of Japan's Supreme Law on March 22, amid predictions of resistance from outside the party. According to the proposal, approved by a majority of the headquarters, the revision would add a clause to Article 9 stating that the SDF will be maintained for Japan to take "necessary self-defense measures," while leaving the second paragraph of the article intact. [Back to Contents ]

Japan Approves Bills to Ratify Successor to TPP Free Trade Pact

On March 27, Japan approved bill to ratify the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), bringing the multilateral trade pact closer to enforcement. Japan and the 10 countries taking part in the deal, renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after the United States' withdrawal, aim to put the pact into force possibly by the end of this year after they signed it in Chile earlier in March 2018. The agreement will enter into force 60 days after at least six countries complete domestic procedures. The newly crafted agreement covers 13 percent of the world's gross domestic product. The Japanese government needs to obtain parliament approval about an agreement included in the CPTPP, which says the application of 22 provisions in the original pact, such as on intellectual property that was included at the request of the United States, will be suspended.

The 11 CPTPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. [Back to Contents ]

Japan- China- South Korea Summit eyed for early May

Japan, China and South Korea have agreed in principle to hold a trilateral summit in early May, possibly on May 8-9. The three-way summit was last held in November 2015 in Seoul. At the meeting to be chaired by Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are expected to discuss steps to boost cooperation in the fields of economy, environment and culture. Li will be the first Chinese premier to visit Japan since Wen Jiabao's trip in May 2011, while Moon will be the first South Korean president to come to the country since Lee Myung Bak's visit in December that year. [Back to Contents ]

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not involved in Land Sale Cover-Up, says Official

Abe has seen his public support plunge and faced calls from the opposition to resign after reports emerged about a 2016 sale of state-owned land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which has close ties to Abe's wife, Akie. Nobuhisa Sagawa, the ex-head of the Finance Ministry office in charge of the documents, said in a parliamentary testimony his office "never reported [the falsifications] outside the finance bureau … not to mention the prime minister's office." The scandal had escalated after the Finance Ministry admitted to tampering with its records of the sale to make them consistent with Sagawa's testimony and remove references to Abe, Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso. "I am deeply sorry if this has undermined public trust in civil servants across the nation," Sagawa said, bowing before lawmakers.

Abe has apologized and promised an investigation into the sale, but has denied any personal wrongdoing. The opposition has repeatedly called on Abe and Akie to testify in the parliament, a demand which Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has rejected. The Japanese prime minister's falling popularity comes ahead of a party vote in September on whether to re-elect him to a third term as LDP leader. [Back to Contents ]

Japan, Sri Lanka agree to promote Maritime Security Cooperation

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena agreed on March 15 to promote bilateral cooperation on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. During their meeting at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Abe and Sirisena confirmed that the two countries will advance bilateral defense exchanges, with Japan assisting Sri Lanka in capacity building for maritime law enforcement. The two leaders also reaffirmed cooperation in upgrading the Indian Ocean country's infrastructure, such as port facilities in Colombo, in an attempt to bolster connectivity in the region.

Japan views Sri Lanka, located near major sea lanes, as central to its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, amid China's rising maritime presence in the region, Japanese government officials said. Japan pledged to provide up to 10.6 billion yen ($99.5 million) in low-interest loans for projects to improve Sri Lanka's health and medical services, including building facilities and training nursing personnel. [Back to Contents ]


North Korea

North Korea's Nuclear Reactor shows signs of Operation: 38 North

A North Korean nuclear reactor has recently shown signs of operation, suggesting the regime has resumed production of plutonium for its nuclear weapons program, a US website said on March 5. 38 North, which monitors the reclusive state, said commercial satellite imagery from Feb. 25 showed activity around the 5 MW reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. "A steam vapor plume was observed at the 5 MW reactor on imagery from both Feb. 17 and 25," the website said, "Such plumes have generally been a useful indicator of reactor operations; however, they were usually accompanied by a cooling water discharge near the river outfall." The absence of cooling water discharges in images from both dates could mean the vapor plume is unrelated to reactor operations. But more likely, the website said, it could mean the outfall pipeline has been extended further into the river. "The presence of ice melt on the river supports the conclusion that the reactor is indeed operating and that the outfall pipeline has been extended," according to 38 North. "If the reactor is operating again, as the evidence suggests, it means North Korea has resumed production of plutonium presumably for its nuclear weapons program."

If the pipeline has been extended, monitoring efforts could become more difficult going forward, the website said, adding that an alternative means would be low resolution thermal infrared satellite imagery. [Back to Contents ]

Kim Jong-un, Trump to meet in May

On March 9, US President Donald Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's offer to meet to talk over denuclearization as soon as possible, according to South Korean and US officials. The summit could happen as early as May. The talks would be unprecedented, marking the first face-to-face meeting between sitting leaders of North Korea and the US. Former US presidents have met North Korean leaders before, but they were all out of office at that point. [Back to Contents ]

Moon-Kim Summit to be held April 27
The two Koreas agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit on April 27. The agreement was made during high-level talks between the two countries at the border truce village Panmunjom. Under the agreement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un in the Peace House on the southern side of Panmunjom, according to Seoul's unification ministry that handles inter-Korean affairs. It will mark the third inter-Korean summit, following those in 2000 and 2007. The two previous summits were held in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. [Back to Contents ]

Surprise Xi-Kim Summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s hasty visit to China and his face-to-face encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping, following the surprise announcement that he would take part in summits with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump has several implications. First, the China visit and summit with Xi were Kim’s first since he came to office in 2011, which underscores the importance of bilateral ties and strengthens Beijing’s hand on peninsular issues. Second, the Kim-Xi summit emphasized the improvement of bilateral relations between the long-time communist allies, which had been at their lowest ebb in decades, thanks to Beijing’s support of United Nations sanctions. Kim’s purges of several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle Jang Song-thaek, and the assassination of Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, had also riled Beijing. Third, the Kim-Xi encounter allows Beijing to keep informed of Pyongyang’s stance and tactics. Beijing was also able to let Pyongyang know what China’s interests are. Fourth, the Kim-Xi summit has brought Beijing back onto the diplomatic center stage in the world’s most-watched diplomatic drama on-going in Korean peninsula. [Back to Contents ]

N. Korea tightens Economic Controls at Home as it steps up Charm Offensive Abroad

Kim Jong-un has tightened controls over the domestic economy, sources close to the country's trade sector mentioned. Since the beginning of this year, the government has reportedly tightened restrictions on any "anti-socialist" activities among individuals running transport businesses -- a turnaround from the previous somewhat hands-off policy.

The North Korean economy is essentially based on state-owned corporations and cooperative farms, and controlled by state planning. However, after the end of the Cold War, the power of government enterprises began waning in the 1990’s, giving ground to burgeoning individual economic activity. The epitome of this trend is the transport business, where individual operators using so-called "side job vehicles" undertake medium- and long-distance bus and truck transport. At around the same time, an order was also issued to security authorities under the name of Workers' Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un to step up monitoring and crackdowns on the unauthorized creation and distribution of computer and smart phone software by individuals. [Back to Contents ]

South Korea

US and South Korea begin low-key ‘Foal Eagle’ Military Drills amid Diplomatic Thaw with North

The United States and South Korea kicked off a low-key joint military drill on April 1 as a diplomatic thaw over North Korea gathered pace. Tensions on the flashpoint peninsula have showed signs of easing in recent months after the isolated, nuclear-armed North proposed summits with the South and the US. The annual Foal Eagle drill – a series of field training exercises involving some 11,500 American and 290,000 South Korean troops – began early on April 1, Seoul’s defence ministry spokesman said. The drill – which was delayed to avoid clashing with February’s Winter Olympics in the South – will be held for a month in April, about half the time it usually lasts.

This year’s drills feature fewer strategic weapons like a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Seoul army said earlier. The deployment of such powerful weapons at past drills has frequently drawn an angry response from the North. The two allies are also set to stage the annual ‘Key Resolve’ drill – a tabletop exercise using mainly computer-based simulations – for the usual duration of two weeks beginning late April. Pyongyang, which habitually slams the joint army drills between the South and the US as a rehearsal for invasion, has remained relatively quiet on the issue in recent weeks. [Back to Contents ]

US, South Korea overhaul 6-year-old Free Trade Agreement

The US and South Korea reached an agreement to overhaul the 6 year old US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, senior administration officials said on March 27 confirming an announcement earlier in Seoul. President Donald Trump had called the original Korea pact a job killer. The new deal doubles -- to 50,000 -- the cars each US automaker can export annually to South Korea, reduces bureaucratic barriers to American products and extends a 25 percent US tariff on South Korean pickup trucks by 20 years, through 2041. South Korea escaped America's new 25 percent tariff on imported steel but accepted quotas on steel exports equal to 70 percent of its average annual shipments to the United States from 2015 to 2017.

Unions at South Korea's two largest automakers, Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., have already blasted the new agreement for blocking access to the fast-growing US pickup truck market. "It is a humiliating deal that accepts Trump's strategy to preemptively block South Korean pickup trucks," Hyundai Motor Co.'s labor union said in a statement. The US Treasury Department is also in talks on a deal to prevent Seoul from deliberately pushing its currency lower to give South Korean exporters a competitive advantage. A formal agreement on currency would be unprecedented -- but it would include no enforcement mechanism. [Back to Contents ]


US Senate passes Taiwan Travel Act

The US Senate passed the Taiwan Travel Act that essentially promotes closer ties with Taiwan. The US Senate unanimously passed it. This bill expresses the sense of Congress that the US government should encourage visits between US and Taiwanese officials at all levels. It further states, “it should be US policy to allow U.S. officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts; permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States under respectful conditions and to meet with US officials, including officials from the Departments of State and Defense; and encourage the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office and any other instrumentality established by Taiwan to conduct business in the United States.” China expressed its disenchantment over the development and has warned that it could threaten stability in the Taiwan Strait. [Back to Contents ]

State Department Official Visits

Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs visited Taipei from 20-22 March 2018. He is the first official to visit Taiwan following the US’ Taiwan Travel Act. He delivered a speech at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. In his speech, he said: “The nation’s democracy and resulting development are an example for the Indo-Pacific region”. He also met other Taiwanese officials to discuss various issues connected to Taiwan-US relations. [Back to Contents ]

National People’s Congress 2018: China President Xi Jinping warns Taiwan will face 'punishment of history' for separatism

During the National People’s Congress, China has issued a strict warning to Taiwan that all “acts and ploys” in pursuit of independence would be doomed to failure, even it would continue seeking peaceful development of cross-strait ties. In the closing speech at the annual parliamentary session, Xi Jinping said, “The Chinese people have a firm will, full confidence and sufficient ability to frustrate all attempts at splitting the country.” He further said, “The Chinese people and nation share a common belief: that every inch of our great motherland’s territory cannot and is impossible to be separated from China.” Notably, Chinese stance appears to be tougher against Taiwan than the 19 Party Congress. Overall, the cross-strait relations have deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen led Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government came to power in 2016. [Back to Contents ]

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