Country Report: Japan (November 2022)


As discussed in the September/October issue of Kaigai Jijo, we are at an historical turning point. With the war in Ukraine ongoing and Taiwan recognized as the next flash point, for which the US is prepared to apply the same tactics in response and Japan would be expected to play the role of Poland, the article draws a parallel with 1894, when Japan was in the throes of debate over cooperation or war with China. The implication is that the wrong turn Japan made then could be repeated. The broader point is that the world and Japan stand at a critical juncture,

After writing this introduction, Kawakami Takashi described Biden’s strategy as a shift in balance with advantages (weakening authoritarianism, finding a common enemy with allies, and forging a US-led international order) and disadvantages (driving Russia and China closer and causing panic in the international economy). The real US aim, he says, is to weaken the Putin regime. It is preparing to face China after the war ends, but for the war it has had to shift forces to Europe. Given the limits to US resources and the fact that China will overtake the US economy by 2030, coupled with Russia, economically and militarily, the US will be hard pressed, and Japan will serve in an analogous position to Poland in todays’ war with high likelihood it will be engulfed in the war. Before this happens, Japan needs to debate where it is heading and whether it is preparing for a Ukrainian-style war in which it becomes heavily implicated, Kawakami proposes.

Kaneharu Nobukatsu in the October/November issue of Kaigai Jijo wrote about Japan’s thinking on national security and economic resilience, reflecting on a new economic security law. Abe, he notes, brought this subject urgently to the forefront, and Suga and Kishida have rapidly advanced it further. It was in Abe’s final 2-3 years, spurred on Trump’s team, including John Bolton, that this gained urgency, influenced too by intensifying alarm toward China in Japan. Now the US pursues comprehensive deterrence of China—diplomacy, economics, military, and strategic communications—thinking consistent with a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” the Ukraine War, and the struggle for hegemony with China. It is necessary to grasp the changing nature of the Japan-US strategy toward China. Unlike the US conflict with Russia, that with China is a competition over economic and technological power. Kanemaru traces the beginning of economic security thinking in Japan, differentiating knowing, protecting, raising up, and activating. Supply chain fragility in the pandemic and the Trump administration controls on technological outflow to China alerted a METI team to begin to call the alarm and an LDP team to begin to act independently. There was no economic group in the National Security Secretariat then, but a technological innovation advancement office began to meet and set the four goals listed above. The defense ministry, METI, and big defense companies lacked an understanding of the problem. In 2022 under a new law a think tank was established to survey technology. As far as protection is concerned, responses to the 1987 Toshiba violation of COCOM regulations set a precedent. New restrictions were put in place under METI on the share of relevant Japanese companies under foreign ownership, meeting resistance in business circles and leading to exceptions. Given that the Finance Ministry lacked security consciousness, the Kantei took charge. A CFIUS-like committee was established, placed under a new national economic security office. As for raising Japan up, proposals were taken for joint research from academic associations and enterprises, which had long opposed cooperation on security. In the National Security Secretariat Kitamura Shigeru, a pro in dealing with Chinese, Russian, and North Korean espionage activity became secretary general as the LDP under Amari Akira provided strong political leadership. Kanemaru describes a rapid rise in security consciousness with four new laws in only one year, including in business circles loathe to think of this when Abe was in his early years in office. Yet cybersecurity has lagged, and over night it has not been possible to change the ideological resistance to the defense ministry working with research organs of the US Department of Defense and overcome the deep-seated bias in leftist academic circles. Determination by the prime minister is required to move Japan further along.

Kitamura Shigeru in Yomiuri on September 18 pointed to the importance of new areas linking economics and security, referring to them as gamechangers. Advanced technology developed in civilian industries can be converted to military uses. This is leading both China and the US to take steps toward decoupling and raising the need for security clearances in industry. Meanwhile, the Yomiuri editorial on the same day, which covered a Japan-US defense ministers’ meeting, noted that Japan is facing danger unprecedented since in the postwar era. Japan and the US are only beginning joint research on hypersonic weapons that China and North Korea are developing. Until now Japan has relied on the US for attacking forces and concentrated on defense, but US power has relatively declined, and defense alone is insufficient for Japan. The editorial warns that should intelligence leak from the defense ministry and defense industries, trust in Japan would decline. In similar vein, a September 30 a Yomiuri article noted that in 1998 China’s military budget equaled Japan’s, but now it is six times Japan’s and about half that of the US. Mentioning that NATO states are pledging to spend 2% of their GDP on this, it adds that Japan is considering a big boost too.

Kitaoka Shinichi in the October 2 Yomiuri raised the subject of reform of the Security Council, now even more necessary after it has fallen into total futility, whether over Ukraine or over North Korea. One goal is to limit the veto power of permanent members. That will not be easy. The US is wary. Developing countries remember colonialism and the US war in Iraq, refusing to boot Russia, which has supported independence movements, from the Human Rights Council. Japan has long advocated Security Council Reform, but it failed, and its weight is less due to the loss of economic power and UN budget leverage. The developing countries favored another reform proposal, and Japan should pay more attention to them. After all, among the G7 it is the most trusted. This would be good for Japan-US relations too. The Ukraine crisis should be turned into an opportunity, and Kishida should lead the way.


In the October Kokusai Mondai Shimotomai Nobuo reexamined Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it a global war to rewrite postwar world history. He argues that Putin misjudged how the war would play out, proceeding from a view of Russia and Ukraine sharing a history and a civilization, and that this war is not a new cold war, but a clash of civilizations rooted deep in the past with Ukraine connecting East and West. The global market and security structure have been split both by the war and Biden’s ideological approach splitting democracy versus authoritarianism, drawing many developing countries onto Putin’s side. The sanctions are not working. Turkey had won agreement in late March for a ceasefire with Ukraine becoming neutral. Yet, the leaders of Great Britain and the United States sought to weaken Russia and prolonged the war. The author concludes that the world cannot tolerate further division and damage, and we should aim for an early ceasefire. Shimotomai accepts Putin’s thinking about the civilizational causes of the war, skirts over the consequences of yielding to such aggression while exaggerating how close the war was to ending in March on terms that could have been acceptable and blames the West for dividing the world as if Russia is winning support across the East and South for reasons that Japan should accept. No mention is made of the impact of Putin’s victory for the calculations of China, given that it may choose to launch another civilizational war divisive to the world. No mention is made either of Japan or why it should support Ukraine in the war.

In the October/November issue of Kaigai Jijo, former prime minister Mori Yoshiro discussed what he thought Japanese diplomacy should do, given his experience working with Putin.  He warned that Japan should not one-sidedly join with the United States.  It must face China as well.  Given the territorial issue with Russia, the foreign ministry also had to consider it.  Adding that Biden’s moves toward Russia are almost all driven by the US midterm elections, Mori warns that television coverage in Japan of Russia and Ukraine alienates him. What he has heard in explanations from Putin (more than ten meetings over twenty years) is far from what is conveyed. Why is it necessary to expand NATO?  In Japan Putin alone is blamed for the war. Zelensky does not want peace. Does that make him a good leader?  A security framework with Russia can be achieved with real peace. Only Biden can stop the war, which is causing states to distance themselves from the US. Even in Europe, states are tiring of assisting Ukraine. Instead of dividing states into good and evil, Mori calls for viewing them in terms of national interests. For Japan’s interests, there is a danger in stressing the US. Japan has a territorial aim and the Sakhalin-2 energy fields with Russia. It has lost a lot, also losing out on the Article Sea route. Japan is surrounded by China and Russia, and it must consider its own national interests.

A Yomiuri editorial on September 30 warned that Russia must be countered for its violation of international treaties on the inviolability of embassies and consulates, pointing to the arrest of a Japanese diplomat in Vladivostok. Earlier, Russia declared Japan an “unfriendly country” and suspended peace treaty negotiations as well as visa-free travel. The Russian army is conducting large exercises this month on Etorofu and Kunashiri, preparing for a Japanese “invasion.”  Such unjust behavior needs to be resolutely countered, readers are informed.

In the September 2022 book, Ukuraina senso to Beichu Tairitsu, written by Minemura Kenji, Koizumi Yu, Suzuki Kazuto, Murano Masashu, Onada Osamu, and Hosoya Yuichi, linkages are drawn between the war in Ukraine and the Sino-US conflict. China and Russia are viewed as seeking to draw the world back to imperialism, as the economic weight of the G7 countries is falling, leaving Japan in the worst position, lacking nuclear weapons and suffering a sharp drop in economic power linked to demographic decline. Exchanges considered a “new cold war” and the “post-Ukraine war” order. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine accelerated the arrival of this bipolar order. The Japanese government has a big role to play in constructing the international order, but the book raises concerns that the Japanese people’s consciousness is fuzzy, as many blamed both sides for the Ukraine war. Alarm has risen about what this war means for a “Taiwan contingency.” Hosoya warns if this thinking prevails, China’s aggression against its neighbor would be treated in the same manner. Such nihilism is extremely dangerous. Yet, as opposed to this initial response, he takes heart from the rejection of pacifism and recognition of Russia as the invader, which broke the peace and calls for more opposition to egoism, as if Japan could stay aloof from conflict without taking responsibility for international society.

The book recognizes that the international system is at a crossroads, and Japan is lacking in preparation to face it. First, it must do what it can do to make sure that Russia cannot win the Ukraine war. Morally, its war’s barbarity is from the Middle Ages. Geopolitically, it treats small and middle-sized countries as lacking in sovereignty, and this includes Japan. China is similar in not being able to recognize a free and democratic society. Their leaders have grown even more isolated in the pandemic. The Russian people are obsessed with great power status, pushing other concerns aside in their identity. China takes the invasion of Ukraine as a textbook for its actions in Taiwan, and it is shocked at the positive role in economic sanctions taken by Japan and the EU. When the Ukraine war began, many in Japan were pro-Russia, insisting that Biden provoked it, when Putin acted, in part, because he thought Biden was weak. China and Russia share the same dream, but they cannot have a military alliance since the other’s territorial priorities are not shared. Japanese companies need to take economic security seriously. An intense debate on it is needed in Japanese society. Southeast Asia is a key to networking for economic interests. Their fear of US abandonment is great, but trust of the US is not strong. Japan’s loss of national power makes its existence less noticeable. We are entering an era with a mix of 19th century power politics and 20th century bipolarity. Japan has two missions: first, to strengthen the cohesion of the G7 and NATO, using its greater political stability and taking advantage of its different and more cohesive democracy; and to provide needed outreach to Asia and Africa. To do this, however, requires struggling at home with anti-American, pro-China voices, who would stand by in a “Taiwan contingency” and even let the Senkakus and Okinawa go. Reliance on the US military has led to a spiritual vacuum, which must be addressed.

Central Asia

On September 16, Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan was treated in Yomiuri as an indicator of the distance existing between China and Russia, as China competes for influence there. Xi’s defense of territorial integrity played to local concerns about Ukraine becoming a precedent. Following Xi’s 2013 announcement in Astana of the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” this was a sign of division.

In Toa, October, an article by Uyama Tomohiko on the relations of Central Asian countries with Russia argued that in the post Cold War period warnings about Russian nationalism have increased, especially in the response to the Ukraine war among the intelligentsia of Kazakhstan, asserting that Ukraine is fighting on their behalf. While its leaders, beginning with Tokayev, avoid criticism of Russia, they do not cooperate with breaking sanctions. Elsewhere in Central Asia, the war is not seen as their concern. However, trust in Russia, economically and militarily, has fallen, as diversification of relations is pursued. Yet, China is seen as driven by nationalism, as well, and its presence is not welcome. The article urges Japan and Europe and the US to become more involved in taking advantage of the wariness toward both powers in the region.

Yuasa Takeshi in the October Toa looked at Ukraine and Central Asia from the angle of the SCO. He notes that for the first time China is now saying that NATO’s interests, security, and values are a challenge. Since its founding in 2001 the SCO has been institutionalized and has expanded. Yet, as a forum for criticism of the US and Europe it retreated from about 2010 under the leadership of Medvedev, as China also reduced its focus on the SCO, putting more stress on ASEAN-centered forums, CICA, and BRI. It had wanted the SCO to become a force for regional economic cooperation, not necessarily coordinating steps with Russia. In response to Russian aggression in 2008 and 2014, SCO members were not welcoming. If Russia could act in this way, the sovereignty of their own countries could be in doubt. In September 2014 Putin failed to win their support. With India and Pakistan added to the group in 2017, the value of the SCO for China was further reduced, but Trump led to further support for the SCO. It serves as a counterweight under China and Russia to new US and Europe security and trade policies, even if it is hard to secure consensus among 8 members and 10 other partners. At the August 24 SCO defense ministers’ meeting they first dealt with the pandemic, then with Afghanistan, and last criticized the spread of neo-Nazi thought. Yet, this was not clear support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On September 15-16 the SCO summit made no mention of Ukraine. On this question, we see “the same bed, different dreams.” Xi Jinping’s decision to make his first foreign visits in 2 years and 8 months to Central Asia, not emphasizing the Sino-Russian tandem versus the US as Putin was doing, and Xi did not attend or virtually join the Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum in September, instead preparing to go to Central Asia. Not sending arms or helping to expand the military industries in Russia, China feared secondary sanctions, as did India. Yuasa asks if the SCO is not centered on China alone now, or, if not, on a three-some of China, Russia, and India. As Iran and Turkey prepare to join, the SCO is continuing to gradually change.


In the October Kokusai Mondai Takahara Akio linked the Ukraine crisis to the Sino-US clash. He noted that in the run-up to the war China criticized the US for arousing panic over its warnings that Russia was preparing an invasion. Right after Putin’s launch of the war China conveyed its support, but as the fighting was prolonged for a time other views came to the surface there. Across global society US and Chinese diplomacy has battled over this, and missiles have flown near Japan as Pelosi visited Taiwan. The target of criticism has remained the US, e.g., for delivering arms to Ukraine and raising tensions. Putin’s worldview is close to Xi’s, blaming the West for color revolutions seeking Russia’s collapse. Xi Jinping’s foremost goal is to win in the strategic competition with the US. Russia is an indispensable partner in that endeavor. As others have cut back on trade with Russia, China has increased its imports by 48 percent in the first half of 2022, and Russia has grown more dependent on it. A fierce diplomatic struggle has ensued as Biden met with the Quad, the leaders of ASEAN, and NATO.  The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly against Russia, although there were many abstentions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America despite the clear violation of the UN charter. Some states buy Russian arms or are averse to human rights arguments and approve of Russia as anti-West and link it to China’s anti-Western stance, on which they have also voted.

On September 30 Yomiuri covered the 50th anniversary commemorations of normalization the previous day.  Although there was an exchange of telegrams, Kishida and Xi did not attend the respective gatherings, although, unlike in the past 5-year intervals, Xi rather than the premier sent the message. If this suggests that Japan still matters, the article stresses its importance has slipped. A day earlier it had editorialized in favor of returning to the starting point pledge of friendship and cooperating on regional infrastructure assistance to developing countries. While debt repayment in BRI projects had become an issue, Japan should cooperate in encouraging healthy investments. What is holding back improving ties is China’s maritime expansionism. If in 1978, 62% of Japanese had a friendly attitude toward China, 81% now consider it a security threat. Many cases of technological theft have occurred, China avoids direct criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, irresponsibly, as a great power, recognizing an invasion. While boosting the alliance with the US, Kishida needs strategic diplomacy to narrow the distance with China. It must build a system with Asian states linking with European ones to maintain peace while also searching for possibilities to cooperate with China.

Koshiba Mitsunobu in Yomiuri on September 29 appealed for sustaining economic activity in China with its vast market. He argues that the August economic security law should not inhibit activity. The US has not completely blocked the transfer of advanced technology to China. He adds that excessive caution has cost Japanese firms opportunities. If China has adopted unfair practices, it is only natural that it seeks to raise up its own firms, readers are informed. Still, on the same day, Yomiuri traced the shift in Japan-China relations from friendship to tension. The era of friendly relations had passed. China continues to apply pressure in its neighborhood. On this anniversary there is no celebratory mood. In the 2000s, economics was hot as politics grew cold, but in the 2010, China’s hegemonic behavior has changed that, A companion front page article warned of Chinese copy machines that transmit to the military and pointed to the new emphasis on economic security in finally facing this problem. Kawashima Shin in the September 30 Yomiuri noted, similarly, that after the exchange of state visits failed in 2020, it will be difficult to proceed since Japanese views of China are even harsher than US ones and diplomacy is more interrupted. It has even become difficult to separate economics from politics, given the emphasis now on economic security and the explosive Taiwan issue. Yet competition plus coexistence is necessary, even if miscalculation over fifty years on how economic development will transform China should serve as a lesson.


The Abe memorial service brought attention to Taiwan, as high officials but not Tsai Ing-wen were able to attend and Abe’s closeness to the island was noted. The Japanese people had been grateful for the 2011 support offered by Taiwan in the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Indeed, Japan’s presence well exceeds that of any other country there. Bungei Shunju in the November issue faulted the foreign ministry and Minister Hayashi for ignoring these realities, when some countries in Europe were drawing closer to Taiwan while the big media in Japan completely avoided the issue and appreciated China sending a special representative to the service. Only Sankei and Evening Fuji reported on the Uyghur representative meeting Abe’s widow and sitting LDP officials for the first time. No change can be expected from politicians and the big media short of a military invasion, readers are warned in the conclusion.

A Yomiuri article on September 25 explained that no progress is being made on the entry of China and Taiwan into TPP, a year after both applied. China is opposed to Taiwan’s entry, and the priority in talks now is Great Britain. Tsai Ing-wen sees entry as a way to boost the state of competitiveness of Taiwan’s firms. In April it changed three laws, and the import of foodstuffs from areas around the Fukushima reactor has become possible. Taiwan’s semiconductors have meritfor supply chains. With China’s show of force around Taiwan, security support for Taiwan has expanded. Forces against challenging “one China” remain, but more favor entry today.

On September 26 Yomiuri reported on Akiba Takeo’s August 17 secret 7-hour meeting with Yang Jiechi in Tianji, just two weeks after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and China’s show of force, including five missiles into Japan’s EEZ. The sense of danger in Japan is spreading thar “Taiwan incident is a Japan incident.” A Japan-China foreign minister’s meeting had been cancelled just after the Pelosi visit, Yet China is eager to restrain Japanese companies fleeing the country, and Japan seeks to avoid a definite confrontation. Perhaps, at the G20 a summit will be possible.

In the November issue of Ronza Jipyo from Sankei, a Taiwan contingency was discussed by Okabe Noburu, asking three questions: when, how, and what will be Japan’s response? Okabe defines a Taiwan contingency as an armed invasion by China. Japan’s new defense white paper indicated that China has a three-part scenario: in the name of exercises to concentrate troops near the island, conduct information warfare to cause panic among its citizens, launch missile and cyberattacks, and then land its forces. In August it crossed the mid-point line, entering the territory of Taiwan, and it launched 11 missiles, five falling into Japan’s EEZ. Scenario 1 of the white paper has materialized. Philip Davidson warned that China may attack by 2027. Others see the greatest vulnerability in 2030-35. China’s forces have not extended their capabilities enough, are insufficient in space, cyber, electronic, and informational warfare, and still need time to overcome limitations for an attack. China would be taking a big risk and may limit its actions to a siege, restrictions on its economic opportunities, or seizure of some islands. The US would not regard Japan only as a backyard for support, but it would seek its participation in the military struggle. Japan faces threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. Against the background of a sense of crisis among citizens seeing the Ukraine war, Kishida is considering plans to strengthen defense within five years. In a crisis, Japanese, foreigners and Taiwan residents will try to flee. Japan may play the role Poland does for Ukrainians for them. Abe warned that a “Taiwan contingency would be a Japan contingency,” and Japan must urgently build the deterrence and counter forces to defend peace and stability on the Taiwan Strait.

South Korea

A Yomiuri editorial on September 25 stressed the urgency of strengthening deterrence of North Korea in Japan, the US, and South Korea. If North Korea were to attack Japan and South Korea, the US extended deterrence would be critical. The article lacked any focus on Tokyo and Seoul working together, concentrating instead on the US nuclear umbrella.

On November 8, Yomiuri wrote of Yoon Suk-yeol’s pending policy to resolve the dispute between Japan and South Korea. It began by stressing the importance of Japan and South Korea working together to oppose the worsening security environment in East Asia and noting that that both sides have begun to explore a breakthrough in their cold relations, including a summit in Southeast Asia shortly.  In advance, Aso Taro went to South Korea and met with Yoon. Given North Korea’s exceptional rate of missile launches and possible nuclear test, three-way sharing of information and countermeasures with the US are more important than ever. As long as the forced labor cases are unresolved, however, trust between the countries cannot be revived. The 2018 court judgment was unjust, ignoring what was agreed to in the 1965 treaty. The Yoon administration is exploring a proposal for a foundation under the Korean government to make payments instead, expecting contributions from Japanese firms. That is misguided. For Japan to be able to accept a proposal, it must change. There are signs also of improved ties between the defense communities, as three-way joint exercises with the US resumed after five years in the Japan Sea in September, and this month, after seven years, Korean forces will join in a maritime international inspection ceremony. Still lingering, however, is the unresolved problem of the 2018 radar incident, the facts of which Seoul does not recognize. They should be investigated anew. Even as bilateral relations are being restored, the Yoon administration’s base is growing shaky, as not only public support is dropping but criticism is mounting of the Itaewon accident. In the past when that has happened in South Korea, a hard line toward Japan has followed. It is necessary for Japan to carefully follow political conditions there, the article concludes.

The United States

An article in the November Bungei Shunju described the tense negotiations between Japan and the US beneath the surface of the Abe-Trump “honeymoon relations.” On one occasion Trump exploded and cut off talks on a trade “deal” with Abe. Trump refused TPP and pressed Japan into bilateral talks, but Abe had success due to his relationship with Trump. Another big issue were the Japanese abductees in North Korea, for which Abe considered US-North Korean talks the best chance, and he asked Trump to convey to Kim Jong-un that Koizumi’s promise of financial assistance to North Korea as part of a peace declaration still held—parallel to what was given to South Korea in 1965 if the abductee issue was resolved. At the start of the Trump-Kim summit Trump twice raised the issue, and Kim could not hide his surprise, readers learn.


Ito Toaru in the October Toa focused on India’s “strategic autonomy” in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, arguing that the Quad has become shaky in light of India’s rejection of many appeals to join in sanctions and criticisms. India has been buying cheap Russian oil and is even reported to be reselling it to the West and elsewhere. The news in 2022 about India has been shocking to Japan. It has poured cold water even on tightening security ties between the two. Yet, the cause is China’s threat, as seen in the May Quad support for Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and other plans of the Quad. The logic in India’s geopolitical thinking dates back to Nehru and Indira Gandhi and nostalgia for non-alignment. Also, it receives from Russia 60 percent of its arms imports, including parts and S400 missiles, even if for the Indian army Russia’s importance has dropped. Indians say that Japan, the US, and Europe do not understand India’s geopolitical environment, now worsened by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fear that China will extend its influence in Myanmar. Under US pressure, India has cut back trade with Iran. Unlike Japan and Australia, India is simultaneously a maritime and a continental country. Rather than old friendship, India’s ties to Russia are driven by geopolitical pragmatism. India’s current path is unsustainable, and the war should not be seen as a good opportunity. For India, the West is indispensable. China may do what Russia is doing, linking up with Pakistan, and a weakened Russia will depend more on China with little prospect of supporting India. As the Ukraine war drags on, it will be dangerous for India’s international environment. It is unavoidable that the “Russia card” will lose value for the China threat. It will not be easy to discard “strategic autonomy” or the West to appreciate India’s “continental” concerns, especially as India retreats on democracy.  Ito qualifies the cautious optimism he appeared to offer as a conclusion. 

North Korea

On October 5 after another North Korean missile launch Yomiuri expressed pessimism that the Security Council would act even if the North tested its seventh nuclear weapon. China and Russia no longer are willing to agree to sanctions, readers were told. Yomiuri on November 4 described tensions in South Korea over North Korean missile launches, including air raid sirens for the first time in six years. It appealed for strengthening defense systems in Japan, the US, and South Korea, noting the US-South Korean message to the North by extending the period of joint military drills. The paper calls on Japan’s government to take more urgently a system for tracking and pursuing missiles, cooperating with the other two. If Mainichi was even more emphatic about three-way coordination in its editorial that day, Sankei appeared more wary, appealing for each of the three to take action.

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