Latest ASEAN news

Asean-5's growth primed to surpass China's for first time, helped by Beijing's 'zero-Covid' stance

THE five largest economies in the Asean region, excluding Singapore, could grow at a faster clip than China next year due to both cyclical and structural factors, and also because of Beijing's pursuit of a "zero-Covid-19" strategy, a Maybank Kim Eng report said on Friday.

Maybank economists said: "China may be entering into a structurally slower-growth phase, with the shift towards more inclusive and socialist policies."

They are predicting a 5.6 per cent growth next year for the Asean-5 - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

They added that this is significantly higher than their 5 per cent outlook for China, the gross domestic product (GDP) of which has exceeded that of Asean's every year for the last 30 years.

Asean's growth recovery is set to be led by the Philippines at 7 per cent, Vietnam at 6.7 per cent and Indonesia at 5.4 per cent. This will be driven largely by cyclical drivers such as Asean members' readiness to reopen their respective economies amid rising vaccination rates, Maybank said.

While China's vaccination rate is one of the highest in the world with nearly 73 per cent fully vaccinated, it is starting to slow down. However, it is also pursuing a "zero Covid-19" strategy, implementing snap lockdowns and movement restrictions where small outbreaks occur.

This, alongside its ongoing energy crisis, is likely to worsen supply chain disruptions and logistic bottlenecks, said Maybank.

Snap lockdowns have also led to consumer sentiment falling to its lowest level in a year; tourism revenue fell further during the recent Golden Week holidays.

In contrast, Asean's more pragmatic "living with Covid-19" strategy, implemented amid a sharp acceleration in vaccine rollout, has improved people's mobility; the retail and recreation sectors have, in fact, returned to pre-pandemic levels in Indonesia and Thailand.

Maybank said: "We expect Thailand to reach 70 per cent full vaccination rate by January 2022, Indonesia by April 2022, the Philippines by May 2022, and Vietnam by June 2022. Malaysia's vaccination rate will likely exceed 70 per cent by the end of October."

Asean governments face a large public debt overhang because of costly Covid-19 fiscal programmes, but corporate and household debt have not increased as significantly during the pandemic and over the last decade, Maybank said.

Indonesia and the Philippines are undertaking tax reforms and improving incentives for foreign investment.

Conversely, China's total debt, at 287 per cent of GDP, as well as its corporate debt at 159 per cent, are far higher than Asean's and will be a drag on future growth, Maybank said.

The Chinese government's crackdown on real estate lending, shadow banks and the fintech industry to contain systemic and leverage risks is likely to further dampen investment and growth, it added. The property curbs are like to have spillover effects for the rest of the economy, since the sector accounts for about 28 per cent of GDP and 27 per cent of total loans.

Maybank also noted that tech adoption and penetration rates have accelerated in Asean during the pandemic, with plenty of room still to grow, whereas China's growth, even though rapid in the past decade, has started to plateau.

This makes Asean more attractive for fintech investments, as China becomes a more mature market, it added. Tech investment is rising rapidly in Asean, with more home-grown unicorns going public, particularly in Indonesia.

China's clampdown on the tech sector has instead led to a "bloodshed" in China tech stocks this year, Maybank said, adding that the country will introduce more regulations for businesses in the coming years, as indicated by the government's five-year blueprint.

In addition, China faces an intensification of growth pressures due to its ageing population and slow labour force growth, while Asean's more favourable demographics places it in a better position in the long term.

"Favourable demographics will support the reconfiguration of manufacturing supply chains towards Asean, a structural shift which will strengthen with the economic reopening," said Maybank.

Asean has also become more attractive in terms of wage competitiveness, with manufacturing wages in most of Asean well below that for China.

"The US-China tech and trade war will continue under the Biden administration. MNCs (multinational corporations) will continue to diversify and reduce the risks and shocks from any escalation in trade tensions," it said.

However, a sharp slowdown in China could have an adverse impact on Asean, since it accounts for a fifth of Asean's total trade. This is larger than the US at 11.5 per cent and Japan at 7.7 per cent.

China is also one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment for Asean, even though outward investment to Asean was already plateauing even before the pandemic, falling to a 3-year low of US$13 billion in 2019.

Its pursuit of a "zero-Covid-19" policy could also delay the easing of borders for outbound tourism to resume, which means Asean would likely target visitors from other countries to plug the gap left by Chinese tourists, Maybank said.

Source: The Business Times (Singapore)

Date: 15 October 2021


Digitally savvy people in Asean more economically resilient during pandemic: Sea Group study

DIGITALLY savvy individuals were more economically resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic, and such people are more likely to desire further digitalisation than their less savvy counterparts, according to a study by Singapore-headquartered consumer tech giant Sea.

Respondents who reported greater levels of digitalisation of their work and business reported lower levels of income decline, the Asean Digital Generation Report 2021 said.

The report, done in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF), surveyed 85,908 people from six Asean countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - of which 77 per cent were aged 16 to 35.

One in 10 respondents were business owners. Among them, 24 per cent of business owners with an online presence said they saw an increase in savings, while 28 per cent saw an increase in income.

For business owners without an online presence, only 18 per cent reported an increase in savings and income. Sea noted that this was consistent across education level, industry and other demographic factors.

Some 85 per cent of respondents said that they saw digitalisation as important or very important for economic recovery.

Meanwhile, digitalisation has a "flywheel effect", said the report.

Between 51 and 72 per cent of respondents who reported increased income wanted further digital adoption; 70 to 80 per cent of those who said they have already digitalised 50 per cent or more of their tasks wanted to increase the level of digitalisation even further, according to the report.

"This could reflect the flywheel effect of digitalisation where those who have already internalised sufficient level of competency and experienced the benefits are more eager to deepen their level of digitalisation," said the report.

Conversely, the "less digitalised" users - those who have digitalised 25 per cent or less of their tasks - were possibly less motivated or lacked the skills to digitalise further.

"In particular, limited initial exposure to digital tools during the pandemic is not a magic bullet for quality digital transformation," the report said.

"As the 'less digitalised' users have most likely not yet experienced the benefits of digitalisation, they have not yet reached the tipping point of getting the flywheel to start and consequently are less prone to further digital adoption."

It added that such individuals need "long-term nurturing policies" so that they can experience meaningful adoption of digital tools and appreciate the tangible benefits of digitalisation.

Similar to 2020, respondents said expensive or poor Internet quality or digital services were top barriers to digital adoption.

Overall, while less digitalised respondents identified digital skills as a key additional obstacle, more digitalised respondents were more concerned about trust and security issues instead.

"The survey showed improving the quality and affordability of Asean digital infrastructure, equipping Asean workforce with appropriate skills and enhancing people's trust in the digital environment are crucial to bring Asean over the tipping point for inclusive and sustainable digital transformation," said Joo-ok Lee, head of the regional agenda for Asia-Pacific at WEF.

Santitarn Sathirathai, group chief economist of Sea, said it is critical for the public and private sectors to work even more closely to minimise any friction and barriers that may prevent digitalisation from taking place.

"Through this, digitalisation can enable post-pandemic recovery in an inclusive and sustainable way," he said.

Source: The Business Times (Singapore)

Date: 13 October 2021


Driving affordable healthcare reform in South-east Asia: HSBC head

This article is written by Priya Kini, head of Global Banking at HSBC Singapore.

With two-thirds of the world’s middle class expected to live in Asia by 2030, and life expectancy increasing, the healthcare sector was, even pre-pandemic, set to see unprecedented demand. Yet the burden on Southeast Asia is arguably the heaviest to shift. 

Covid-19 is a trigger for players across the entire value chain to take a collective step in creating a more affordable and future-proofed sector for its patients. And treasurers lie at the centre of supporting that change. 

The burden on Southeast Asia 

A report by Solidiance revealed that in nearly all Asean nations the growth of cost in healthcare per capita has been outpacing the growth in GDP per capita. That means that the cost of healthcare is growing at a pace that it unsustainable. Southeast Asia’s challenge is compounded by the region’s unique urban-rural divide and fragmented geographies, encompassing over 25,000 islands.

Looking ahead, it is clear that the sector needs to urgently address the issues of affordability and access, and it needs to attract more public and private investment to do that.

Healthcare players can leverage the current digital impetus induced by the pandemic to streamline internal processes and, in doing so, reduce costs for themselves and for consumers. Treasury functions play a crucial role in driving and enabling such reforms, often pulling on immediate and long term levers to do so.

As incomes rise and populations age, we will see increased demand on healthcare providers not only in urban areas but also across smaller centres. To address this, the sector will have to establish a more inclusive, patient-centric system which ensures better interactions including via digital channels while maintaining the quality of treatment outcomes and data security protection, all of this at a lower cost and with added immediacy. 

Healthcare companies in Asia were already investing in digital, patient-centric capabilities prior to the pandemic, and unsurprisingly, that trend has accelerated. A recent survey revealed that 74% of healthcare companies have sped up their digital transformation and it is estimated that investments in digital healthcare are expected to grow to US$22.5 billion by 2025. 

Solutions created for the pandemic need to be used to harness this patient-centricity for the long term. 

For instance, in maintaining social distancing, omni-channel sales have proved to be successful in treating patients remotely via tele-medicine and enabling order placements by pharmacies and clinics though platform based omni-channel sales. On the other hand, the rise of real-time payments and e-wallets in Asia has enabled a greater outreach and a shift towards direct-to-market business models for healthcare companies. Treasury functions at healthcare companies have rapidly adapted to these payment models. 

The rollout of international vaccine programmes could also be used to overcome weaknesses in supply chain resilience. Vaccine passports – if used – are a route to developing greater patient touchpoints and payment routes where governments, pharmaceuticals and immigration authorities are testing the vaccine, supply chain and inoculation authenticity. The technology and processes used for these could have many more applications in the sector.

Digitising without, and within  

With increased pressure from patients and governments to improve the healthcare experience, healthcare companies also need to look internally to improve efficiency and lower cost of delivery of their services to help make healthcare more affordable to a larger population. 

The Asean nations employ on average 18 per cent of their public healthcare personnel in non-patient facing functions. Automating back-office processes will release overheads and enable healthcare providers to reallocate resources. 

Whether digitising a single function like collections or the entire treasury operation, organisations can redirect resources once dedicated to manual tasks as well as speed the supply chain and reduce sales outstanding. 

The use of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) is taking shape across many sectors and has potential to pay a significant role in the healthcare sector, for instance in in areas such as authorised sharing of medical records between doctors or other healthcare service providers in the chain.  DLT can not only provide better access to and management of data, but will speed up the processes of sharing, avoid duplication and help save costs. Similarly, in the pharmaceuticals sector, blockchain can track medication throughout the supply chain, verifying that hospitals and patients receive the correct drugs. 

Corporate Treasurers are already beginning to drive a lot of this change – whether through streamlining their processes, digitising patient and vendor payments or introducing new technologies in their own functions.

Banks also have a key role in supporting this change; whether through addressing financing needs, driving collaboration between partners or introducing new technologies to treasury functions. 


With vaccine rollouts increasing, healthcare players must not lose sight of the reform that was already required pre-Pandemic. Covid-19 must be the catalyst for change, and cannot be an excuse to make short term fixes. 

Treasurers have the opportunity to create sustainable, long term solutions within their businesses that will streamline functions, support long-term technologies and enable fast and effective cash management decision-making. Ultimately by doing so, healthcare players can move towards their end goal of a truly holistic and patient-centric business model. 

Source: The Business Times (Singapore)

Date: 6 October 2021


Cambodia: E-commerce, digital shift power MSMEs: minister

E-commerce and the ongoing digital transformation have been boosting the productivity and competitiveness of small and micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) in Cambodia, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak said last week.

The minister was speaking via video link at the 15th session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Ministerial Roundtable IV on “Harnessing frontier technologies for shared prosperity”, co-organised by the Barbadian government and the UN trade body.

The quadrennial conference is attended by 195 UNCTAD member countries, as well as international organisations and other partners, to discuss and find solutions to challenges and complexities associated with trade and development.

Sorasak said the Cambodian government is actively engaged in formulating and strengthening policies, laws, other legal instruments, and related measures to spur development of the digital sector in a successful, sustainable and inclusive manner.

“The digital transformation and e-commerce are major components in boosting the productivity and competitiveness of MSMEs, the backbone of Cambodia’s economy,” he said.

He added, however, that the rapid growth recorded by trade and the digital economy has also widened the digital gap between developed and developing countries, especially the least developed ones.

For the full article, please read here


Author: Hin Pisei

Source: The Phnom Penh Post

Publication date: 10 October 2021  

Indonesia seeks to roll out carbon tax in April 2022

The Indonesian Government is seeking to impose a carbon tax of Rp30 per kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent (C02e) on emissions surpassing a designated cap from April 1, 2022, the Finance Minister has said.

“The carbon tax begin to take effect on April 1, 2022, but still it (the government) follows the carbon roadmap related to climate change,” Sri Mulyani Indrawati said at a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday.

The Law on Harmonizing Tax Regulation (UU HPP) deals with the imposition of carbon tax aimed at restoring the environment.

The carbon tax is part of Indonesia’s commitment to lower carbon emissions by 29 percent on its own and 41 percent through international support by 2030 in accordance with the target of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the minister noted.

The tax will be imposed in stages and adjusted to carbon trading as part of the green economy roadmap to minimize the impact on businesses while lowering carbon emissions, she said.

“The basic notion is our acknowledgement that carbon has economic value so we will impose carbon tax through cap and tax trade mechanism,” Vice Finance Minister Suahasil Nazara said.

In the first stage in 2021, the government will develop a carbon trade mechanism and from 2022 to 2024, it will apply the tax to coal-fueled power plants (PLTU), based on the cap and tax mechanism, he informed.

From 2025 and beyond, carbon trade will be done fully and the carbon tax sector will be expanded in stages, in keeping with the sector’s preparedness, he added.



Source: Antara News

Reporter: Astrid Faidlatul H, Suharto

Editor: Rahmad Nasution

Original published date: 08 October, 2021


Read full article here.

ASEAN health meet closes with key solutions found

“Collective efforts by multiple sectors of our society is required to ensure public health safety in the face of emerging pandemics and emergencies. Key solutions to help the region move ahead have been identified, through the Special Ministerial Conference for ASEAN Digital Public Health.”

Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah said this at the two-day conference, themed ‘Collaborate for a Happier and Healthier World Post Pandemic,’ which concluded yesterday.

“This includes discussing the importance of impactful financing in driving research and development, as well as building a digital infrastructure that can help to strengthen the efficiency of healthcare systems. These conversations are crucial to have if we want to work together for the long-term,” he said.

The second day of the event focussed on mapping out solutions and the next steps to encourage intra-regional collaboration.

The first panel discussion on Investing and Financing in Public Health saw the participation of ministers and key stakeholders, including Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew; Minister for Finance Singapore Lawrence Wong; Advisor to the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand Dr Phusit Prakongsai; Vice-President, Operations 2 in Asian Development Bank Ahmed M Saeed; Director General, Social Infrastructure Department in Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Hun Kim; and Board Director of HilleVax Inc Susan Silberman.

During the discussion, moderated by Head of Philanthropy Advocates of Temasek Foundation Jennifer Lewis, participants explored ways in which public health investments should be prioritised and evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness, and be financed.

Date of Release: 8 October 2021

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‘Digital transformation, always in the forefront’

Digital transformation has been at the forefront of the agenda even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has sped up the adoption of digital technology and many of these changes could be here for a long haul. This was stated by ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) Chair and Legislative Council (LegCo) member Yang Berhormat Siti Rozaimeriyanty binti Dato Seri Laila Jasa Haji Abdul Rahman during the launch of Brunei’s legacy project ‘Harnessing Impact with Resilient Employability Digitally’ (HIRED) at the ASEAN Business and Investment Roundtables: Skills for a Digital Age held virtually yesterday.

The roundtables were part of a series of events under the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2021.

Yang Berhormat Siti Rozaimeriyanty added, “Technology rapidly changes the landscape of work in the region, leaving us with no choice but to upskill and reskill to adapt and accommodate the changes in the industry skill requirements. This is what the ASEAN-backed legacy project is all about.”

HIRED serves to address unemployment issues and on how ASEAN lags behind in upskilling and reskilling. This is even more critical during the pandemic as we hope to achieve UNN sustainable development goals for quality education, decent work, and economic growth.

The event saw a panel discussion on ‘Future of Work’ – what does the future of work in Southeast Asia look like? How is innovation and business transformation changing how employees operate? What are some of the permanent changes in the workplace caused by COVID-19?

Date of Release: 30 September 2021

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ASEAN solidarity crucial in COVID fight

With the spirit of togetherness, ASEAN continues to rise to challenges of achieving sustainability and resilience among the people while preparing the region for the future.

This supports the objectives behind Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN Chairmanship, themed ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, emphasising the region’s relevancy to its people where no one is left behind.

The importance of ASEAN’s solidarity in addressing the challenges brought by COVID-19 in the region was highlighted by Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan bin Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin in his opening remark as the Chair of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Council 2021 during the 26th ASCC Council Meeting held via video conference recently.

The minister shared the progress and efforts made by ASCC throughout the year.

He highlighted that the whole-of-ASEAN approach in realising regional commitment to strengthen coordinated responses can be seen through ASCC’s multi-dimensional approach in addressing gaps and challenges thus ensuring the well-being and livelihood of the people.

ASCC council ministers, ASEAN Secretary General Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi, delegations and representatives were also present at the meeting.

The minister and ASCC council ministers commended the holistic actions by the ASCC sectoral bodies to address the gaps and challenges affecting the region particularly in areas such as public health, social protection, fake news and misinformation, environmental degradation and the climate crisis.

The ministers stated that the recommendations in the Mid-Term Review of the ASCC Blueprint 2025 had helped advance ASEAN community building efforts through incorporating and aligning the blueprint’s implementation into the post-2020 ASCC Sectoral Work Plans and the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its Implementation Plan (ACRF).

Recognising the importance of preparing for the future, the meeting reaffirmed support and commitment on the elevation of the role of youth in realising sustainable development, ensuring that they are prepared and future-ready in responding to the complex global challenges, through initiatives such as the ASEAN Youth Academy Programme, ASEAN Youth on Climate Change and ASEAN Walk 2022.

Date of Release: 1 October 2021

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Brunei-China trade hits $2.5 billion in first eight months of 2021

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s bilateral trade with China reached $2.5 billion (US$1.83 billion) between January and August of this year, a 43 percent increase year-on-year.

Speaking at a virtual reception to mark 30 years of diplomatic relations with Brunei, ambassador Yu Hong said the economic relationship between the two countries had grown significantly in recent years, with China becoming the largest source of foreign direct investment through the Hengyi petrochemical plant.

“Hengyi Industries has extended Brunei’s downstream oil and gas industrial chain and become a new engine boosting local employment and spurring economic growth,” she said.

Hengyi has exported US$4.08 billion worth of petrochemical products since its oil refinery started operations in November 2019.

Date of Release: 1 October 2021

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Dissecting opportunities, impact dealt by outbreak

The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Pillar – through the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) as the National Secretariat and Chair of ASCC 2021, in collaboration with Brunei Youth Council and the ASEAN Secretariat – on Monday organised the inaugural Innovation Platform Dialogue via video conference, which forms one of Brunei Darussalam’s key deliverables, during its tenure as ASEAN Chair for 2021.

The dialogue was conceptualised to be an annual event, with the main intention being for the ASCC Pillar to deepen and strengthen its institutional engagements with partners and stakeholders on strategic issues of mutual attention.

This year, under Brunei Darussalam’s chairmanship with the theme ‘Youth Employment and Digitalisation in ASCC Perspectives’, corresponding to Brunei’s ASEAN 2021 theme, ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, the dialogue took into account the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on people’s livelihood, and the opportunities created in responding to technological advancements under the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0).

Hajah Nor Ashikin cited findings from the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicating the pandemic has impacted youth employment more than adult employment. With the ASEAN region comprising a 40-per-cent youth population, broad policy support is needed to ensure ASEAN is able to meet the needs and aspirations of its young people, as they will define ASEAN’s common future.

Date of Release: 29 September 2021

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Surge in demand for digital skills, says education minister

In light of the recent global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of digital technologies has now shifted tremendously, and the demand for digital skills has surged, more so in some sectors.

This was said by Minister of Education Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Hamzah bin Haji Sulaiman during his opening keynote address at the ASEAN Business and Investment Roundtables: Skills for a Digital Age hosted by the Brunei ASEAN Business Advisory Council (BAC) via online yesterday.

The minister said, “However, this dramatic increase in innovation and adoption of digital solutions should not take place at the expense of ethical considerations. With the ongoing moral and public debates evolving the use of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics in our daily activities, matters such as liability, accountability, privacy, property and autonomy among which convey adverse insinuations, such as on automatic data collection, algorithms used for predicting and profiling as well as technologies used for surveillance, has become a major public concern.

“Therefore, a holistic approach should be taken to ensure the right ethical and moral principles are instilled in the students at all levels of education.

“In a time when we are less clear on specific skills tomorrow’s workers will require digital ethics, and values has become our guiding principle to develop and implement digital technologies in a responsible manner. In the context of the Sultanate, these values and principles are embedded in the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy,” said Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Hamzah.

Date of Release: 30 September 2021

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‘Role of Chair to sail ASEAN ship through turbulent waters’

As the current Chair of ASEAN, Brunei Darussalam is able to handle such chairmanship, Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof said during an online press conference yesterday.

“What is good about ASEAN is that we are a family, we do things together, and we talk together whether it is with regards of one member state or the region. That is what ASEAN is about. It is the unique behaviour of ASEAN working by consensus. People say reaching consensus is difficult, but it depends on who you talk to,” he said.

“The uniqueness remains what it is today and will make it in the future. There will be always be issues in ASEAN, but it is the role of the ASEAN Chair to sail the ASEAN ship through turbulent waters.”

On confirmation of ASEAN leaders attendance for the ASEAN Summit and related meetings on October 26-28, Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan said, “We received verbal confirmation that they have no problems with the dates. We will prepare letters for replies.

“But with new development after the foreign ministers’ meeting that ended on October 4, ASEAN must sit together and discuss the best move forward,” he added.

On the term as the Special Envoy to Myanmar, Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan said it clearly states that as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair and. will depend on who will chair ASEAN in any particular year. “On that basis, my term would end on December 31.”

Date of Release: 7 October 2021

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