Saturday, October 11, 2014

In Hong Kong, Who’s the Bigger Story? C.Y. Leung or Jimmy Lai?

Maybe the answer is Both.

Nobody expects Xi Jinping to do something about C.Y. Leung just because Hong Kong student groups wrote him a letter.

Key point, in my opinion, is to put it on record that C.Y. Leong is the deserving target of the movement’s righteous wrath.

As to why the movement wants Leung out [bold prediction here]:

I don’t believe it’s just because Leung is considered a barrier to electoral reforms and a valuable scalp to collect for pro-democracy activists.

The goal may be more strategic, to systematically discredit and delegitimize C.Y. Leung, and with him the process that put “Mr. 689” (referring to the number of electors who voted for him in the final iteration of the constituency-based winnowing process) in office.

Leung’s fall, in other words, could be spun as proof of the hopeless flaws of the old system and its method of leadership selection, and a vindication of demands for full public participation and supervision in every stage of the electoral process i.e. universal suffrage in the selection of candidates as well as election.

In other words, No More Leungs.  We Need Democracy. * 

Then throwing C.Y. Leung under the bus is not a temporizing measure that will win Beijing any buddies in the democracy crowd (typing that phrase makes me realize how ludicrous that idea is); it will be presented as a profound repudiation of the PRC’s formula for rule in Hong Kong and a signal for redoubled efforts to bring the electoral system in line with the newly understood realities.

If this is the way the CCP sees it, maybe C.Y. Leung isn’t going anywhere soon.

And if he doesn’t resign, the democracy movement will make sure that his days in office are not happy ones.

Discrediting Leung and thereby delegitimizing the political system he represents has, of course, already begun, assisted by the fortuitous leak of some tycoon worthy tittle-tattle to John Garnaut.  We’ll see if Jimmy Lai’s paid-up pols in Legco step up to shoulder more of the political burden.  They’ve already called for Leung’s impeachment and promised legislative gridlock.  Expect many healthy servings of indignation and acrimony to show that the current political order is terminally dysfunctional.  

It’s always possible that more fuel for the bonfire may be needed, of course.  John Garnaut, watch your inbox.

I suppose we also owe the media a debt of gratitude for keeping sunshine in our lives through its coverage of the Umbrella Movement, sustaining the joyful, idealistic image of the student demonstrations…and not killing the buzz by putting the focus on Jimmy Lai, the problematic eminence grise of the democratic movement.

Lai is an important paymaster for the movement and motivator for democracy.  As to what “important” means, here’s an excerpt from the Hong Kong Standard story from this summer about Jimmy Lai’s largesse:

[L]eaked documents showed Lai has donated more than HK$40 million to the pan- democratic camp and legislators since 2012, of which HK$9.5 million was made to four political parties in April 2012.

Lai also gave the Democratic Party HK$10 million in two payments - HK$5 million in October 2013 and HK$5 million in June 2014. 

The Civic Party also got an additional of HK$6 million during the period. 

Alliance for True Democracy convener Joseph Cheng Yue-shek and Occupy Central organizer Reverend Chu Yiu-ming received HK$300,000 in June 2013 and HK$400,000 in April 2013 and April 2014, respectively.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang got HK$3.5 million - more than twice the HK$1.3 million she received from Lai between 2007 and 2009.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun received HK$6 million and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming got HK$300,000.

League of Social Democrats lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung received HK$1 million. 

Former Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong and five incumbent pan-democratic lawmakers - Democratic Party's James To Kun-sun, Labour Party's Lee Cheuk-yan, Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit and the party's lawmaker Claudia Mo Man- ching and Leung - received donations between April 2012 and April 2014.

Noto bene, as they say, the bolded passage and compare and contrast with Jimmy Lai’s statement  to the South China Morning Post three days ago:

Lai said that while he had donated large sums of money to politicians in the pro-democracy camp, he had not given a cent to the co-founders of Occupy Central.

The SCMP declined to call Jimmy Lai on this particular statement, despite the fact that Reverend Chu Yiu-ming is listed as one of the three Occupy co-founders in the very same SCMP article.  Wonder how the merry-go-round spins on that one.

More importantly, Jimmy Lai casts a distinctly unstudently, unidealistic shadow over the democracy movement.  With democracy activists howling for C.Y. Leung’s head on ethics charges, now would not be the time for Jimmy Lai to appear on the scene as C.Y.’s oligarchical doppelganger and explain how his devotion to democracy squares with paying $75,000 to arch neo-con Paul Wolfowitz to get into the good graces of Burma’s markedly democracy-averse military rulers and get his business done over there.

In short, the spectacle of Jimmy Lai’s non-stop application of financial, media, and political grease in pursuit of his interests, democratic and otherwise, would undercut the dominant narrative of the democracy movement struggling against the non-stop application of financial, media, and political grease by Beijing and its bespoke oligarchs in the affairs of Hong Kong.

Until C.Y. Leung has been disposed of, I imagine Jimmy Lai will not emerge to distract from the movement’s optics and serve as a propaganda piñata for pro-Beijing forces by acknowledging any active role in the formulation, strategizing, or advancement of the Hong Kong democracy agenda.

And maybe not even then.  Maybe, as they say, truth is the daughter of time and we’ll only get a rounded idea of what went down after, well, after it all goes down.

Perhaps journos are hoarding their Jimmy Lai stories for their retrospective tomes on the democracy movement, which could be subtitled, “Now it can be told…because nobody cares.”

To be generous about it, I will say that today the media is giving relatively short shrift to the unethically acquired audio file of Jimmy Lai’s table talk with Shih Ming-the because Jimmy Lai’s machinations, although integral to the furtherance of the pro-democratic political movement in Hong Kong, are peripheral to the Big Story that Big Media believes is worth telling: the erosion of PRC legitimacy and control in Hong Kong and possibly throughout China.

Well, for those who enjoy the little stories, the awkward facts on the ground that have received less play, below the fold is my previous piece on the leaked Jimmy Lai/Shih Mingteh audio file and C.Y. Leung’s current round of difficulties.

*Unless we’re talking Alan Leung, of course, the ambitious pro-democracy politician whose person and party have both, according to the leaked e-mails, been the recipients of Jimmy Lai’s largesse.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Dirty War for Hong Kong Democracy Heats Up

Things got  hotter for C.Y. Leung, with Australian journalist John Garnaut revealing that Leung has signed a non-compete agreement when he parted ways with an Australian company, UGL, that also included a multi-million dollar consulting clause that might have exposed him to some conflict of interest ethics problems when he became Chief Executive.

Though the sin seems to be of a venial nature as RFA reported it:

While there was nothing apparently illegal about the contract itself, Leung didn't disclose it during his election campaign, the paper said.

That’s not good enough for the pro-democracy movement:

Pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong said they would impeach Leung over the allegations,

Fair enough.  IMO a not unpredictable escalation of the crisis, an effort to get the pro-Beijing government on the defensive when dealing with the negotiations with the students, intimidate the government with the pro-democracy movement’s clout and capabilities and, perhaps, decapitate the HK government by forcing C.Y. Leung’s resignation and putting the accommodation-minded Carrie Lam in the driver’s seat.

So Leung has his work cut out for him.

No problem with that.  We’re clearly in the hardball phase of the struggle.

I predicted there will be a continual escalation of pressure against the Hong Kong government in order to reform and co-opt it and present the pro-democracy case to Beijing, maybe not out of conviction but because of the desire to dodge the intense political pressure that the democracy movement will continue to bring to bear, inside and outside the governments, from elites and key constituencies, and backed up by the ability to put students on the streets to protest.

Educators now in open support of the movement, as I also predicted.  A student told RFA only half the students were in class:

"[The rest] are all in Admiralty and Central," Chin said. "The college still supports us, and the teachers are e-mailing stuff to us, to help the students."

And indeed, Garnaut’s audio segment (illustrated with a quite timely Next Media animation), editorialized about the “travesty” of the nine day delay in the Hong Kong government’s beginning talks with the students and opined that revelations about the deal “add to the pressure on C.Y. Leung to be more reasonable in upcoming talks.”

What I do have a problem with is bullshit.  In this case, the bullshit is the meme, put out by the democracy movement and apparently adopted by sympathetic members of the press, that Beijing leaked the Leung story to John Garnaut, a journalist resolutely antagonistic to the CCP regime, in order to push the Chief Executive out of office.

Here’s Quartz:
It’s not clear where Fairfax Media obtained the contract. When asked about the publicly-floated theory [David Pilling of the Financial Times obligingly started the attribution ball rolling--CH] that Beijing may have leaked the information to Fairfax, Nick McKenzie, one of article’s authors, told Quartz:

I’m afraid we never comment on the identity of sources, I can only say they were people with deep concerns about the probity of CY and UGL’s dealings and that we only got the story very recently.

The fact that John Garnaut co-wrote the story is notable. Now back in Australia, Garnaut was for many years a highly accomplished foreign correspondent in Beijing, thanks to his many sources connected with the Chinese government.

For Pete’s sake.  John Garnaut is Xi Jinping’s go to guy for radioactive tittle-tattle?  I smell…bullshit.

As I smelled in a tweet by another journo, who passed on the tidbit that Alan Leung, who has emerged as perhaps the democracy movement’s most brazen flak, was claiming the Legislative Council had recessed because:

Civic Party's Alan Leong suspects Legco session suspended bc pro-Beijing lawmakers got messages that Beijing wants to fire CYL over payments

Double-stacked bullshit.  My fingers would curl up in embarrassment if I tried to type something like that (fortunately I was able to cut-and-paste).

If the journalistic community is unable to recognize, as I put it on Twitter, plain vanilla psyops meant to sow FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) between Beijing and Hong Kong at a level befitting an IQ test in a petting zoo, while dodging the fact that the pro-democracy movement is engaged in a calculated and rather inelegant exercise in dirty tricks…

…but who am I kidding? 

My general feeling is this.

The Western media wants a big story to come out of this.  Heck, there’s a certain prestige media outlet that’s laying off journos by the fistful while maintaining an expensive, top-heavy presence of exiled reporters in Hong Kong; it needs a big story.

And it’s hoping that story is democratic revolution in Hong Kong and maybe, just maybe, in mainland China.

Unfortunately, that’s just one story.  And right now it’s not the main story.

The main story right now is that the pro-democracy movement is coordinated and financed by a group of clever, determined, and ruthless bigwigs who are using the student demonstrations as part of a sophisticated political campaign against the Hong Kong government to achieve some electoral reforms.

Maybe not the story the pro-democracy media wants to tell. 

But it’s the true story.  And I don’t think there’s any shame in telling it.  The democracy movement has a solid agenda and support, and the facts, if they hurt, aren’t going to hurt too much.  And it’s easier on the discriminating reader than flogging the dishonest and increasingly tedious line that what we see playing out in the streets and in the media is just a spontaneously evolving outburst of impassioned students, or pretending that a carefully prepared and timed hatchet job against Leung is some kind of circular firing squad gambit by Beijing.

Speaking of facts—actually, facts, leaks, and oppo research dumps from the other side of the fence--pro-Beijing operators unearthed another interesting nugget from the computers of Jimmy Lai, the Next Media tycoon who is bankrolling and overseeing much of the democracy action in Hong Kong.

The Lai camp has not challenged the authenticity of an audio recording purporting to be Lai’s own record of his discussions with Taiwan democracy icon Shih Ming-teh, in October 2013. 

Shih did 25 years—yes, 25 years, including 13 years of solitary and four years of hunger strike-- of hard time in Taiwan’s prisons during a struggle for reform of the Republic of China’s political system (under Chiang Kai-shek, and until his son Chiang Ching-kuo yielded, the ROC operated under a martial law regime inherited from the mainland that gave Taiwaners only a minority voice as one of the two dozen or so Chinese provinces in the parliament).  As a result, he is called by some “Taiwan’s Mandela”. 

As befits the factionalized character of Taiwanese politics, Shih broke with the DPP and is now on the outside looking in.  His most relevant experience to Lai apparently was his organization of the “Million Voices against Corruption,President Chen Must Go” “Red Shirts” action in 2006, an orchestrated multi-stage, multi-week street action that contributed to independence-minded Chen Shui-bian’s removal from office, much to the delight of Beijing; in fact, Shih was accused of acting as the PRC’s cat’s paw. 

Today, Shih Ming-teh pursues a relatively idiosyncratic but rather KMT-friendly agenda of “Greater One China” which splits the baby between independence and reunification with a call for overlapping sovereignty. 

So it would seem that democratizing the Hong Kong arrangement within the PRC context would be somewhat to Mr. Shih’s taste; and either Mr. Lai believed that Mr. Shih would not blab his plans to Beijing, or didn’t care if he did.

In any event, they met.

The tape—in nice, clear Mandarin, by the way—has Lai blustering in the trademark da kuan fashion, while Shih goes Zhuge Liang in advising on how to win at high-stakes democratic brinksmanship.

The accompanying news story says Lai made an offering of 200,000 yuan (currency not specified) to arrange the meeting (which was puckishly described as Lai “going to pick up the scriptures” as Tripitika did in Journey to the West) and Lai collected everybody’s phones so they couldn’t be used as listening devices (Lai apparently knew about the ability of government surveillance authorities to secretly turn on cellphones and turn them into microphones). Shih supposedly gave Lai advice on putting students, young girls, and mothers with children in the vanguard of the street protests, in order to attract the support of the international community and press, and to sustain the movement with continual activities to keep it dynamic and fresh.

We’ve certainly seen that, though these particular elements are not addressed in the audio and transcript that made their way into the world a couple days ago.

For some reason, Lai openly recorded the conversations himself (he refers to shutting the recorder off at presumably sensitive moments) and then the audio file got hacked off his computers.  Go figure.

The meeting was apparently meant to be a super secret summit between Lai, some Hong Kongers, and Shih Mingteh and some other Taiwan figures who had experience in the use of mass street politics.  One of the other attendees at the meeting, a local media nawab associated with protest politics named Fan Keqian, revealed on Taiwan TV that he was furious at Lai—who had demanded complete, “silent as the grave” secrecy—for letting the audio get out, calling him “a son of a dog”.  Neither Fan nor another attendee, Yao Liming, a political commentator who also helped put the wood to Chen Shuibian in the 2006 mass action, can be heard on this excerpt.

The audio is an interesting look at the nuts and bolts of high-stakes activism by two serious players, one well-heeled and determined, the other bringing a lifetime of experience to the table.  Shih talks about the importance of a commitment to go to jail for the cause (he says he’s willing to go to Hong Kong and get arrested) and the inevitable dangers of provocateurs.

Interestingly, Shih does not share the “Tiananmen Redux” anxieties voiced by so many journos and pundits during the Hong Kong street demonstrations.  “No blood has to flow”, he declares.

A year before Hong Kong Occupy kicked off (but a full six months after he had rained millions of $HK on democracy-inclined politicians) Jimmy Lai already seemed to be “in it to win it” as we say in US politics (“It’s decided!” he trumpets, his enthusiasm perhaps a function of Shih’s confidence that jail time for Hong Kong protesters won’t be anything like what he went through on Taiwan). 

Lai offers to send some journalistic cheddar Shih’s way and indeed Shih contributed a hopefully well-compensated opinion piece to Apple Daily on October 1 on “Tear Gas and the Freedom that Wants to Fly”.

Maybe further releases will fill in some interesting gaps, like the reference to “the meeting on the 14th” and scheduling a visit by Shih “after the round table conference”; and the “Ma” action on Taiwan; and what seems to be Shih’s interest in using the Hong Kong action to jumpstart his new political alignment in Taiwan with some supporting street demonstrations.

Rely on it, there’s plenty more out there, and plenty more worth reporting.

For the sake of posterity and interested readers and journos, I have roughed out a translation of the transcript below the break.


以下为已公布的黎智英向施明德“取经” 录音记录。
The tape of Jimmy Lai pilgrimage (“retrieving the Buddhist scriptures”) to Shih Ming-teh
JL: This already recorded?
SMT: I just listened to you talking about striving for universal suffrage, and that there were some people who already had the resolve to go to jail.  I tell you, as long as there are people who dare go to prison, success is assured!
JL: Great!
SMT: Success for sure!
JL: That’s really great!
SMT: You want to have that confidence, you’re willing to make the sacrifice, pay the price.  There’s no free lunch in the world, if only you’re willing to pay the price then you’ll certainly succeed.  Before matters get underway, I can say this, and blood won’t have to flow.
JL: Yes.
SMT: And no way is the price going to be as heavy as we paid when struggling against Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo.  Because today, even though it’s under the Chinese government, what we’re talking about, they won’t condemn some opposition or struggle behavior too severely, otherwise they will attract the attention of a lot of people from the whole world.
港人在追求香港的民主,也会鼓舞香港人的热情,但接下来就是方法应该掌握,怎么来处理。所以,我里头也有提到,第一个要有理想,我这里头讲到任何运动,反 抗的气氛变成反抗的势力,由于这种气氛要求直选,这个已经有了,但是这个气氛是散漫的,要怎么把它转变成势力,是需要3个条件。
Hong Kong people seeking Hong Kong democracy will excite the enthusiasm of the people of Hong Kong.  However, the next thing is the methods that should be grasp, how to manage.  Therefore, here I also raise the point, the first is to have an ideal, here I first talk about how in any movement a spirit of opposition has to become an opposition force.  Because this kind of spirit wants direct election, this [first] condition has already been met.  However this spirit is dispersed; in order to convert it into a force, there are three conditions.
The first, of course, is you need the ideal, that’s I want direct elections, I want democratization.  The second, there must be organization, people have got to be organized; the third, leadership is needed.  Leadership isn’t a matter of just one person leading, there has to be a leadership group.  With these three conditions, an opposing spirit can be changed into an opposing force.
JL: Yes.
SMT:  Ok, no matter, today we’ll take it to this point.  Of course there will be people who go to jail, how they go to jail, we’ll talk about that later, going to jail in Hong Kong isn’t going to be like the jail time we had to spend here in the past…
JL:  Conditions were terrible, you [plural] suffered greatly.
We don’t have to talk about that, we served our sentences, we don’t have to talk about that thing.  As for today…it suddenly occurred to me, the 14th, that’s good, on the 14th I’ll bring at least two people with me.
JL: You’ll bring two people, OK.
施明德:我突然想一下,不要就我一个人,其实他们这些人现在已经,最近因为“马”这个事情 在动了……然后这次的状况,一做起来就会朝向带领一个新的政治势力了,不是像“红衫军”只是要求一下就算了,这次一定要蓝绿合起一个新的政治势力,如果真 的要上街头一做的话,就一定会做成这样,这个是一定也会,我相信气氛到了这种状况,已经不是……
SMT: It suddenly occurred to me, it doesn’t have to be just me.  Actually those other people are already, just now because of the “Ma” [agitation involving ROC president Ma Ying-jyeou?] matter are at work…afterwards this situation, once it gets started it may show the way to a new political force.  It wouldn’t be like the “Red Shirt Army” which would have only one demand [removal of Chen Shuibian in 2006], this would be a “Blue Green” (i.e. KMT & DPP elements) union into a new political force.  If street action is really needed, this is certainly the way it would be done, it certainly can be done, I am confident that when the spirit is like this, it’s already not…
JL: We don’t need to record this?
SMT: Let’s not record this, we can use the recording for background.
JL: Fantastic (?)
SMT: Seeking direct democracy in the future is one part of human rights.  If I go, and they arrest me, I’m willing to go to jail.  I’m willing to join Hong Kong people in prison, because democracy, human rights, freedom are universal rights.  It’s not just for the freedom and democracy of Hong Kong people, it’s a universal goal of all humanity.  So if I really go, I’ll be prepared.
JL: Should you go after the round table meeting, or before?
SMT: After, of course.
JL: After is better?
SMT: Of course after.  As to this, we can explain it this way, the freedom flower of Hong Kong may very possibly become the freedom flower of China, and this is of historical significance.
JL:  The main thing is that we’re willing to go to jail?
SMT: Right! If you’re willing to go to jail, you’ll certainly succeed.  The flower that subsequently unfolds in Hong Kong will be the Hong Kong freedom flower, and it also might be China’s freedom flower, and that’s how it will start.  This is very important!  How many people in Hong Kong?  How many million?
JL: 7.5 million
SMT: Ah, 7.5 million
JL: Not just making money.
SMT: Certainly not just making money, the awareness of the people of Hong Kong has appeared.
JL: After 97?
SMT: After 97, gradually over these few years, I have seen Hong Kong people, [his emphasis, switching to the persona of a Hong Konger] I am a Hong Konger, I live here, this is mine, therefore the freedom, democracy is important to me, and the future of my children and grandchildren.  We have the power to decide our own fate.
JL: And we have the basic law, which already fixes these rights for us.
SMT: Correct, these rights just have to be extended to all Hong Kongers.
JL: Yes.
施明德:所以这几年我真的是有强烈的感受,虽然我没有去到,香港人已经出现了,很生动有力 地出现了,在那里,而且愿意为自己的现在跟未来去追求。这个很重要、关键。以前如果是浮萍,要是不行我就跑掉了,我跑到哪里去?我跑到美国,我跑到英国。 现在是完全不一样了。我是完全是香港人,我有权利……
SMT: Therefore in these years I’ve had a very strong impression, despite the fact that I didn’t go there, that Hong Kong people had already emerged, emerged with great vitality, over there, and are also willing to strive for the sake of their present and future.  This is very important, it’s key.  [Again speaking in voice of Hong Konger]  Before, I was free and easy, if things weren’t working out, I could escape.  Where could I escape?  I could escape to the United States, I could escape to England.  Now it’s completely different.  I’m 100% Hong Konger, I have rights…
JL: For the sake of this place, I can sacrifice.
SMT: I can sacrifice.
JL: Then, success.

SMT: And once the spirit of sacrifice emerges, then incredible.
JL: When a spirit of sacrifice appears, incredible.
SMT: Uh, incredible.  Really incredible.  I heard what you said this morning, originally I thought it was just words, but now wave by wave I’m willing to go to jail, as I say here…
JL: Right, it’s already decided!
SMT: Right, here’s I’ve got something to say.
[Break in recording]
SMT: …disorder erupt.
SMT: Erupting disorder, you want to be careful about that.
JL: Yes, they can send people, pretend to be very active…
SMT: Very active, very eager.
JL: Eager, how?
SMT: Eager in saying we must charge in, we most throw in firebrands, do whatever, pretend we’re willing to sacrifice our lives in the process.  Actually when we’re talking and talk of sacrifice, then I arrange to have you detained, we don’t want to struggle to the death with you.  But there are always people who will pretend this; these people must be guarded against.
JL: There are people like that?  Really.
SMT: They will undoubtedly send people to do this.
JL: They already have, already sent people…it’s already started, there are people talking.
SMT:  Have to be careful about this.  In the movement there are people who talk very actively, always seem to be talking very bravely, “I can sacrifice my life”, talking more bravely than the other people, and you don’t understand what they’re like as a person, this is something to be careful about, really careful.  Afterwards, then comes that.
JL: Uh, delicious, uh.
SMT: My wife’s at her job; she’s working at her job.
JL: Uh, she’s at her job?
SMT: Of course she’s at her job, otherwise how am I going to live?
JL: Really?  For you?
SMT: Really.  For a long time.  She’s general manager of a company.  I tell you, my wife is very capable, extremely capable.
[break in recording]
SMT: She makes money to support us.
JL: Really?
SMT: Would you like to write something for our media.  Write stuff for an extended period, it could happen.
SMT: That should be OK.
JL: Can have some income.  I can talk to them.  OK?
SMT: That…yes.
JL: Thank you.
SMT: Because after I had liver cancer a few years back, I have to be relatively careful about what I eat.  These things are all organic.
JL: Ah, after had cancer, huh?
SMT: After I had cancer, I have to be relatively careful about what I eat; I don’t like to eat outside the house too much.
JL: Your cancer is gone now?
SMT: I don’t have it anymore.
JL: From what can be seen you surely don’t have it any more; you look great.
SMT: My spirit is very good.
JL: Your spirit is incredible.
SMT: I frequently write things until two AM and only then go to sleep.
JL: At night?
SMT: I get up a little after seven in the morning, maybe take a nap in the afternoon, like that.  For my entire life I’ve given my life to freedom, democracy, human rights, when I hear Hong Kong is like this, I’m really excited and moved.
JL: Thank you.
[break in recording]
JL: We’re good friends, I’m going to say a word…turn this off.
[end of audio file]


Xinxi said...

So is there no third force? Any untainted group that tries to improve the situation of the common man in HK and the rest of the PRC without getting tainted by oligarchic funds?

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