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  • U.S. House Approves Uyghur Act, Condemning China’s Crackdown in Xinjiang

  • With Election on the Horizon, Taiwan Fights Back Against Beijing’s Influence

  • China Imposes Sanctions on U.S. NGOs over Hong Kong Bill


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U.S. House Approves Uyghur Act, Condemning China’s Crackdown in Xinjiang

Following the U.S. Senate’s September passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Act, which some commentators saw as a potential watershed moment in the global stand against the ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved its own bill aimed at the human rights crisis in Xinjiang. Citing information from news agencies, The Guardian reports:

The Uighur Act of 2019 is a stronger version of a bill that angered Beijing when it passed the Senate in September. It calls on the president, Donald Trump, to impose sanctions for the first time on a member of China’s powerful politburo even as he seeks a trade deal with Beijing.

The Uighur bill, which passed by 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, requires the president to condemn abuses against Muslims and call for the closure of mass detention camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

It calls for sanctions against senior Chinese officials who it says are responsible and specifically names the Xinjiang Communist party secretary, Chen Quanguo, who as a politburo member is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership.

The revised bill still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate before being sent to Trump. The White House has yet to say whether Trump would sign or veto the bill, which contains a provision allowing the president to waive sanctions if he determines that to be in the national interest. [Source]

Bloomberg’s Daniel Flatley compares the House bill to the earlier Senate version, outlines its provisions, and notes that U.S. lawmakers are working together to ensure a quick passage to law:

The House version of the Uighur human rights measure amends a Senate bill passed without objection in September. It adds provisions that require the president to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for the repression of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group, and places restrictions on the export of devices that could be used to spy on or restrict the communications or movement of members of the group and other Chinese citizens.

Lawmakers, recognizing the momentum behind human rights legislation concerning China, are working to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills to agree on one version that can pass swiftly through Congress before the end of the year.

[…] Among other provisions, the bill requires the president to submit to Congress within 120 days a list of senior Chinese government officials guilty of human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xianjiang or elsewhere in China. That list would include Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and officials responsible for mass incarceration or “re-education“ efforts that single out Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

The president would be required to impose visa and financial restrictions on the listed individuals under the Global Magnitsky Act.

[…] “We need to get something sent over here that’s acceptable to both sides and that we could hopefully persuade Banking to waive jurisdiction on it,” [U.S. Senator Marco] Rubio said, referring to the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over export controls. [Source]

President Trump last week signed the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act, which requires an annual review that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being maintained and imposes penalties on Beijing for acts of repression in Hong Kong, where a six-month running protest movement is ongoing. China reacted by imposing sanctions on U.S. rights NGOs and banning U.S. military vessels from visiting the city. Following the approval of the House Uyghur bill, Beijing has issued warnings of retaliation to Washington. Reuters’ Se Young Lee and David Brunnstrom report:

Several sources familiar with Beijing’s stance told Reuters the bill could jeopardize the so-called phase-one trade deal already fraught with disagreements and complications.

[…] “Do you think if America takes actions to hurt China’s interests we won’t take any action?” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said when asked whether the Uighur bill would affect the trade negotiations. “I think any wrong words and deeds must pay the due price.”

[…] Hua said China would set no timeline or deadline for a trade deal and would take “decisive” countermeasures to defend its interests if what she called U.S. protectionism and bullying over trade continued.

[…] Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang made “stern representations” to William Klein, the U.S. embassy’s minister counselor for political affairs, and urged the United States to stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs, state TV reported. [Source]

Hua Chunying spoke at length on China’s opposition to the bill in her December 4th press conference. On Twitter, just ahead of the passing of the bill, editor of the state-affiliated nationalistic Global Times also warned of retaliation:

More on Chinese threats to leverage its stance in the ongoing trade talks with the U.S. in response to the bill comes from the South China Morning Post’s Shi Jiangtao and Jun Mai. The SCMP coverage also notes that while some observers don’t see the provisions of the new bill having a major impact on Xinjiang officials, international rights organizations are applauding the congressional action:

“The response from international communities has been inadequate so far given the severity of the abuse. We hope to see targeted sanctions being imposed on officials in Xinjiang where there is at least a reputational cost,” [senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch Maya] Wang said, adding that the bill would encourage governments and diplomats around the world to step up the pressure.

“The … sanctions might seem to have little impact on the lives of the abusers but it is sending the right signal to those who are [responsible].”

Adam Ni, co-editor of China Neican, a China analysis newsletter, said the passage of the bill indicated that the US was increasingly willing to use different levers of power to confront China.

“Both bills are quite important especially in the juncture in the bilateral relations as well as the domestic debate in the US on how to respond to China. There’s an increasing sentiment among elites in Washington that China policy needs to change, the US needs to devise an effective response to China’s challenge,” he said. [Source]

The crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which has been called a form of “cultural genocide,” was officially launched in 2014. Beginning with policies limiting Islamic dress and religious custom, and promoting practices forbidden in , it has since 2017 culminated in AI-fueled mass detention program where an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs have been or are being held in a network of internment camps. In recent weeks, a series of leaks—the first published by The New York Times, another analyzed by China ethnic minority scholar Adrian Zenz, and yet another acquired by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—have further revealed the evolution and execution of the mass detention program.

As international opposition to China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang mounts and as U.S. congress works to pass a relevant law aimed at the Chinese officials responsible for the situation, the South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau reports on the difficulties Beijing is having filling official posts in the Xinjiang region:

The measures targeting Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have triggered “widespread discontent among Han Chinese officials and citizens”, a source close to the central government told the South China Morning Post. The source said Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the problem because he had been briefed by the country’s chief Xinjiang policy coordinator, Wang Yang.

[…] “[Wang has] said in his briefings that even the Han people are deeply dissatisfied,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Life is harsh [in Xinjiang] even for cadres. Officials are exhausted as nobody is allowed days off [even after working for weeks].”

[…F]or the officials on the ground in charge of carrying out Beijing’s Xinjiang policies, life is increasingly unpleasant, according to the source. China has set up what is called a “sent-down system” in the region that requires cadres to live in the homes of Uygurs as part of surveillance programmes.

“The cadres sent down must bring gifts and pay out of their own pocket and anyone refusing to go is sacked right on the spot. Measures like these have triggered widespread resentment,” the source said.

Xinjiang authorities regularly advertise jobs with lucrative packages, but it is hard to retain people and requests for early retirement have been rejected. [Source]

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With Election on the Horizon, Taiwan Fights Back Against Beijing’s Influence

With the presidential election in Taiwan—a de facto independent nation that the CCP regards as a “renegade province”—just over a month away, there have been many recent reports of Beijing’s attempts to influence public opinion and election results in 2020. China has a history of successful election interference in Taiwan, and has steadily been courting Taipei’s few remaining allies to pledge to Beijing in recent years. At NPR, Emily Feng and Greg Dixon report that Beijing’s influence and ambitions are weighing heavy on Taiwanese voters’ minds:

Voters are preparing to elect Taiwan’s next president and legislature on Jan. 11. While the leading opposition candidate sympathizes with Beijing, President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party calls China the “enemy of democracy.”

Many Taiwanese are also closely watching what is happening in Hong Kong, where more than five months of sometimes violent protests are pushing back against mainland China’s control. Taiwan largely wants to avoid becoming another Hong Kong, which could tip the election in favor of President Tsai, who is running for reelection and has a widening lead in opinion polls.

[…] “Hong Kong is on the verge of chaos due to the failure of ‘one country, two systems,’ ” President Tsai said on Taiwan’s National Day in October. “The overwhelming consensus among Taiwan’s 23 million people is our rejection of ‘one country, two systems,’ regardless of party affiliation or political position.”

“When China unifies Taiwan either violently or peacefully, do you want military rule or one country, two systems? The latter is still the best way for Taiwan,” Chang [An-lo, a “gangster turned politician” and head of the Unification Promotion Party, which is backing all pro-Beijing Kuomintang candidates] says. “How could an economy of 1.4 billion people be bad for Taiwan? And what’s wrong with returning to China, as we are all Chinese?”

Taiwanese mostly disagree. The latest polls on identity show the island’s residents feel increasingly Taiwanese, not Chinese. […] [Source]

Despite reports a year ago of that President Tsai Ing-wen’s popularity had drastically fallen—starkly represented in DPP losses in local elections and her subsequent resignation as party leader—her favorability has been on a steady rise over the past year. Her criticism of the lack of freedom in the mainland in her Lunar New Year address in February, continued defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy in response to Beijing’s threats, and steady support of the ongoing Hong Kong pro-democracy protests have all contributed to her rebounding popularity ahead of the upcoming election. Last month, Tsai announced former premier William Lai as her running mate in the 2020 election. In 2018, while still premier, Lai severely angered Beijing by publicly stating that he was a “Taiwan independence worker” and declaring Taiwan a sovereign, independent country. Beijing issued a sharp rebuke and the Global Times called for his arrest.

At CNBC, Huileng Tan looks at the carrots and sticks approach Beijing has adopted to curry favor in Taiwan ahead of the election:

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government recently announced a package of incentives in a bid to further open Chinese markets access to Taiwanese companies. Beijing also offered to help train Taiwanese athletes in China, among other moves aimed at showing that mainland Chinese and Taiwanese were treated equally.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office rebuffed the package, saying it is a ploy to divide the Taiwanese, the official Central News Agency reported.

[…] Last week, China said its first domestically-built aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a move Taipei said was an act of intimidation.

The “highly visible” measures such as the package of incentives and the sailing of the aircraft carrier through the waterway are a combination of “soft-hard measures” that are “consistent with Beijing’s pattern of behavior towards Taiwan,” said Global Taiwan Institute’s Hsiao. […] [Source]

Reuters’ Ben Blanchard reports further on traditional hard and soft influence attempts, also noting a new method: the leveraging of soft power through Chinese-language media, which Taiwanese officials’ are directly acknowledging and countering:

Commenting on the 26 measures [to further open the mainland economy to investors from Taiwan], Hai Xia, one of the highest-profile news presenters on Chinese state television, appealed for Taiwan to return “home”.

[…] “I am a Hakka from Guangdong, I’d like first here to say hello to folks in Taiwan,” said [Zhu Fenglian, a new spokeswoman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, who voiced warm greetings in Mandarin and Hakka languages at her first news conference], referring to the southern Chinese province while speaking in Hokkien, generally known in Taiwan as Taiwanese.

Many politicians in Taiwan, a rambunctious democracy, have responded vigorously to China’s gestures.

[…] Beijing should focus on “giving its own people a bit more freedom”, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Twitter in response to China’s 26 measures, writing in the simplified Chinese characters used in China and not Taiwan.

“Thank you for your concern; the people of Taiwan are already in their own home,” independent legislator Hung Tzu-yung wrote on her Facebook page. […] [Source]

An unnamed Chinese official reportedly admitted that Russian success in using disinformation to influence the 2016 U.S. election results inspired Beijing to examine whether similar tactics could be used against regional rivals, including Taiwan. At the South China Morning Post, Lawrence Chung quotes Brent Christensen, the U.S.’ senior diplomat to Taiwan, who includes disinformation as a major piece of Beijing’s campaign to influence the Taiwan vote:

“We are aware that China is attempting to apply pressure through various means on Taiwan,” the head of the American Institute in Taipei said on Friday.

“Certainly, these attempts to influence Taiwan’s democratic process are of concern.”

He continued: “We believe malign actors are using disinformation campaigns to make people lose faith in democratic institutions.”

[…] “The US and Taiwan are working very closely to combat these disinformation efforts,” he said. [Source]

Last month in a Council on Foreign Relations brief on China’s tactics to interfere in Taiwan’s election, Joshua Kurlantzick notes that “China has a long history of meddling in Taiwan,” and describes the three main disinformation tactics it is employing and the goals behind those tactics:

  • Hackers and bots spread disinformation through social media platforms such as Facebook, microblogging services such as Weibo, and popular chat apps such as Line. For instance, Chinese media outlets disseminated a false story in 2018 claiming that Su Chii-cherng, a Taiwanese diplomat in Japan, failed to help Taiwanese people trapped during a typhoon. The stories were widely shared in Taiwan, and Su later took his own life, noting in a letter that he had been troubled by the viral posts.
  • Beijing is increasing its control over Taiwanese media as pro-China tycoons buy media outlets there. Earlier this year, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau divulged that several Taiwanese media outlets collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party. Some of these outlets, including the powerful Want Want China Times Media Group, also coordinate with the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office, the Financial Timesreported. Other Taiwanese websites appear to publish Chinese propaganda.
  • Additionally, China reportedly launches tens of millions of cyberattacks per month in Taiwan.

Taiwanese citizens will vote on January 11 for either President Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or Han Kuo-yu of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). There is no doubt that China prefers the opposition, as it appears to be spreading disinformation in Han’s favor.

The KMT historically has been willing to accept that Taiwan and China are part of the same country. Han, the mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-most-populous city, has supported stronger cross-strait relations and has held meetings in China with Communist Party officials in recent months. [Source]

Taipei and some Taiwanese citizens have been proactive in combating disinformation efforts. Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission is currently investigating allegations that China is paying for businesses and restaurants to lock their television sets on networks that favor Beijing’s viewpoints ahead of the election; citizens have reacted with a campaign to map the offending businesses and restaurants, allowing for customer boycotts. In April, Taiwan’s plan to ban Chinese-owned video streaming services over fears that they could be used for political influence was reported, sparking debate from some that this was out of line with Taiwan’s commitment to free expression. In August, a Reuters report that at least five Taiwanese media companies were found to have been paid by Chinese authorities to publish CCP publicity department copy in the guise of straight news noted: “the Taiwanese government said it was aware of Beijing’s efforts and that such partnerships were subject to a fine of up to T$500,000 (US$16,000) for violating regulations on Chinese advertisements.”

Taiwan is also fighting back against harder influence tactics. Last week, Taiwan detained two Hong Kong-based executives on allegations of working for Chinese intelligence agencies to undermine democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. At The New York Times, Steven Lee Myers and Chris Horton reported last week:

Taiwan’s justice ministry ordered the two executives, Xiang Xin and Kung Ching, to remain in Taiwan while investigators looked into the assertions of a would-be defector in Australia that their company, China Innovation Investment Limited, acted on behalf of Chinese intelligence.

The defector, Wang Liqiang, said he worked for the company and took part in — or knew of — covert intelligence operations that included buying media coverage, creating thousands of social media accounts to attack Taiwan’s governing party and funneling donations to favored candidates of the opposition party, the Kuomintang.

[…] The Taipei district prosecutors office is investigating Mr. Xiang and Mr. Kung under suspicion of violating Taiwan’s National Security Act.

“At present, the two individuals are barred from leaving Taiwan,” a spokeswoman for the office, Chen Yu-ping, said in a phone interview. “They have both been willing to cooperate with our investigation.”

If charged, the two men could face up to five years in prison. […] [Source]

In a pre-election opinion essay published at The New York Times, former Australian diplomat Natasha Kassam writes that the upsurge in Chinese intimidation and influence efforts reflect Beijing’s knowledge that it has little public sympathy on the island, while also sparking more official Taiwanese defense against Chinese political infiltration:

[In regards to Taiwan’s foreign minister’s tweet: “#PRC intends to intervene in #Taiwan’s elections. Voters won’t be intimidated! They’ll say NO to #China at the ballot box.”] The Chinese government also seems to suspect as much: Even as it holds fast to its usual (ineffectual) strong-arm tactics, it is employing new measures as well. It no longer is simply supporting candidates from the Kuomintang, a party that now favors closer ties with Beijing. It is also trying to undermine Taiwan’s democratic process itself and sow social divisions on the island.

It seems clear by now that even Beijing-friendly candidates cannot deliver Taiwan to China. Only about one in 10 Taiwanese people support unification with China, whether sooner or later, according to a survey by the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University in October. Given public opinion, presidential candidates are likely to hurt their chances if they are perceived as being too close to the Chinese government.

Beijing, by flexing its muscle, seems to have succeeded only in pushing the Taiwanese away. […]

[…] By some accounts, a disinformation campaign conducted by a professional cybergroup from China, which was traced back to the publicity department of the Chinese Communist Party, helped the pro-China Han Kuo-yu get elected mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung: One (false) story claimed that during a debate, Mr. Han’s opponent wore an earpiece feeding him talking points. China is trying to erode Taiwan’s body politic from within.

But Taiwan is pushing back. Legislators have recently accelerated efforts to pass a law against foreign infiltration and political interference before the election. An adviser to a presidential candidate told me this summer in Taipei, “The question for voters this election is: Do you want a quick death or a slow one?” Is it, though? Despite Beijing’s efforts at sabotage, Taiwan’s democracy is proving well and truly alive. [Source]

At Wired, Carl Miller looks at Taiwan’s thriving “civic hacker” movement to argue that Taiwan’s democracy is not only proving well and truly alive, but is evolving to meet the new challenges that democracies around the world are facing in the social media era.

Civic hackers thought that elections were simply not enough. Two-way votes held years apart didn’t allow information to flow easily from citizens to government. Likewise, not enough information flowed out of government about what they actually were doing and why. Direct democracy didn’t work either: referendums often split society, and simply showed a government that the country was divided. Something different was needed.

Civic hackers thought the internet could be part of the solution, but in Taiwan – like everywhere else – it seemed to be part of the problem. Online politics was polarised. It made people angry and bombarded political leaders with lobbying and abuse. The internet created only heat and noise, and gave citizens no way to express preferences the government could act on.

Their answer to the government’s request was to create a new kind of political process. They wanted to allow citizens to not only vote on questions posed by the government, but also control what questions were asked in the first place. And they wanted these questions to be based on attitudes held in common across Taiwanese society rather than on its divisions. They called the process vTaiwan.

[…] In countries such as the UK, democracy has fossilised in a particular form. In Taiwan, a young democracy that doesn’t carry the same weighty legacy, it is being upgraded. It might stand a better chance of adapting. [Source]

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China Imposes Sanctions on U.S. NGOs over Hong Kong Bill

Last week, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which had earlier been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The act would impose penalties on the Chinese government for various acts of repression in Hong Kong while also requiring an annual review of Hong Kong’s freedoms. From Paul LeBlanc and Steven Jiang at CNN:

The new law will require the US to annually confirm that Hong Kong’s special freedoms are being maintained by Beijing — failure to do so could result in Washington withdrawing the city’s special status, a massive blow to the Hong Kong economy.

The bill also lays out a process for the President to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on those who are found to be knowingly responsible for arbitrary detention, torture and forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong, or other violations of internationally recognized human rights in the Asian financial hub.

However, the US President’s statement also indicated the administration would only enforce parts of the measure — as it interferes with the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

“Certain provisions of the Act would interfere with the exercise of the President’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States. My Administration will treat each of the provisions of the Act consistently with the President’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations,” the White House said in a statement. [Source]

In response to the act’s passage, crowds gathered in Hong Kong’s Chater Garden Sunday to express thanks to the United States. The Chinese government, meanwhile, lashed out at the U.S. for “interfering in China’s internal affairs” and announced sanctions on five U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy (a funder of CDT), Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which it said had played an “egregious role” in the Hong Kong protests:

Gerry Shih reports for the Washington Post:

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not give details about the sanctions or articulate how the nonprofit groups’ operations will be affected in the semiautonomous city, where many maintain regional offices to conduct China-related work.

China also will suspend rest-and-recuperation visits to Hong Kong by U.S. military ships and aircraft, Hua said, adding that further moves are possible.

The comments were a stark warning to organizations that China sees as aligned with Washington — and the first salvo in what Beijing has promised will be “forceful” retaliation against the United States for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump last week.

The move could further elevate Hong Kong as a flash point between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese government has viewed the five-month protests in Hong Kong as an American attempt to foment a “color revolution” rather than an outpouring of genuine anger over police conduct and declining political freedoms in the territory. [Source]

The Chinese government has consistently blamed “foreign interference” for the protests in Hong Kong, which have been ongoing for almost six months. In August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to foreign media in Beijing, accompanied by a 42-page supporting document, which pushed the government’s line that the Hong Kong protesters were “radical” and “violent,” and singled out NED for supporting civil society groups in the territory.

The New York Times’ Amy Qin reports that the retaliatory measures from Beijing may be largely symbolic, as China and the U.S. focus on ongoing trade negotiations:

China has responded to the new legislation with strong rhetoric, but the measures announced Monday suggested that Beijing was unwilling to let the dispute spill over into its trade negotiations with the United States.

It was unclear what impact, if any, the sanctions would have on the groups China has singled out for punishment. Most of the organizations Ms. Hua named do not have offices in mainland China. Foreign nongovernmental groups have already been subject to growing Chinese government pressure since 2016, when the country passed a wide-reaching law strictly regulating their operations in the country.

China has also previously denied permission to American naval vessels to dock in Hong Kong at times of heightened tensions between the two countries, most recently in August.

“It’s nothing new,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I think the major purpose of this is rhetorical: to try to convince the world that the U.S., whether it’s the C.I.A. or the N.G.O.s, is trying to foment a color revolution in Hong Kong.” [Source]

NED, Freedom House, IRI, NDI, and Human Rights Watch all issued statements responding to the allegations from the MFA.

China’s mission to the U.N., meanwhile, accused United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet of emboldening “radical violence” after she wrote an op-ed in the South China Morning Post calling on the Hong Kong government to engage in dialogue with protesters and to investigate police violence.

The NGO sanctions over Hong Kong come soon after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement last week that Asia Catalyst would be the first foreign NGO to be investigated for violating the Foreign NGO Management Law, which was passed in 2017. Upon its passage, there was widespread concern in the foreign NGO community about a potential crackdown on their ability to work in China. From Siodhbhra Parkin at SupChina:

According to the MFA statement, Asia Catalyst will face administrative penalties in accordance with the Overseas NGO Law and other relevant laws and policies. In the case of the Overseas NGO Law, these penalties may include cancellation of activities, fines, and — in severe cases — detention of employees and loss of eligibility to work in China for up to five years.

Previously, the only known penalty issued under the Overseas NGO Law involved the administrative detention of a Hong Kong resident accused of organizing activities without a proper permit in Shenzhen. [Source]

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