Friday, May 18, 2018

Reducing China's trade deficit with US$ 200 billion sounds impossible - Victor Shih

Victor Shih
Rumors - denied by China - say China is willing to offer a reduction of its annual trade deficit with the US by US$200 billion. Even if China would be willing to do so, it would almost be "difficult to contemplate", says political analyst Victor Shih to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg:
The U.S. and China were expected to exchange new trade proposals during the Washington talks, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said earlier Thursday. 
Mnuchin is leading the talks with Liu, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, according to the White House. 
Victor Shih, a professor at the University of California in San Diego who studies China’s politics and finance, said he finds an agreement to cut the U.S. deficit by $200 billion “difficult to contemplate.” 
“Even with a drastic reallocation of Chinese imports of energy, raw materials and airplanes in favor of the U.S., the bilateral trade deficit may reduce by $100 billion,” he said. “A $200 billion reduction would mean a drastic reduction in Chinese exports to the U.S. and a dramatic restructuring of the supply chain.”
More in Bloomberg.

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The US just cannot stand China is doing better - Arthur Kroeber

Arthur Kroeber
Despite the fast ups and downs in the relations between the US and China, the fundamental animosity between the world's largest economies is just not going away, says economist Arthur Kroeber, author of China's Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know® to the South China Morning Post. Despite Donald Trump's easing of the fight with ZTE, he does not expect a huge change in the tensions.

The South China Morning Post:
Some observers like Arthur Kroeber, research head at Gavekal Dragonomics, feel that relations between the countries are unlikely to improve. 
“It is possible that all this back-and-forth [visits and talks] will allow a reduction or delay in the tariffs that the two sides have threatened … but it will also be cosmetic.” 
He said the rivalry between the US and China is not principally about trade, and is only marginally about Donald Trump. It is really about China’s emergence over the last five years. 
“These developments have caused the American security and foreign policy establishment to conclude that the US is now in a long-run strategic competition with China for technological and military superiority, and for dominance of the global economic system,” he said.
More in the South China Morning Post. Arthur 

Kroeber is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

European companies need to act fast to catch up with China - Mark Greeven

Mark Greeven
European companies are running behind in defining a good strategy in catching up with China, writes Mark Greeven, professor at the Zhejiang University,  in the LSE Business Review. "The reality is that Chinese companies have no choice but to innovate and upgrade in global value chains."

Mark Greeven:
The reality is that Chinese companies have no choice but to innovate and upgrade in global value chains. Their domestic competitive landscape is highly competitive and innovation advantages are necessary. Entry into Europe by many of China’s largest tech companies is a necessity, as they are looking for market experience, leveraging new technology and exposing themselves to international business. We have not even seen the real beginning of the international journey of Chinese digital giants. More is to come, as it is imperative to China’s business world. 
It is also worth noting that while Chinese companies no longer have a cost advantage, they do have a technology advantage. Chinese companies are globally number one in fintech; number two in virtual reality, autonomous driving, wearables, robotics, drones, and 3D printing; and number three in big data and artificial intelligence (McKinsey, 2017). Chinese research in deep learning for artificial intelligence applications has seen the largest growth rate, closing in on the US, while European companies are hardly increasing AI research and development. AI has been supported by recent national government policies in China. Already, there is a Chinese white paper on developing technology standards for AI. Combined with markets, capital and ambitious entrepreneurs, Chinese companies have a strong technology advantage to leverage in Europe. 
For European executives it is vital to understand what is happening and react as fast as possible, either to grasp an opportunity or to be ready to face an emerging threat. First, they should know and analyze in detail the latest solutions, value propositions and business models of the Chinese digital players, identifying the most innovative and disruptive elements. In several cases they can be taken as innovation benchmarks. 
As they are very unpredictable, it is crucial to map the different ecosystems to derive insights on whether and how Chinese players will penetrate a particular market space. Designing interconnections among the companies inside ecosystems helps understand the overall business models and next strategic moves. This is critical to define the best strategies to connect, partner or compete against them.
More in the LSE Business Review.

Mark Greeven is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The risks and benefits of One Belt, One Road - Sara Hsu

Sara Hsu
China's massive One-Belt, One-Road program has often been compared with the US Marshal plan after the Second World War. Keen to reap the benefits, risks for investors have also been highlighted, writes financial analyst Sara Hsu at Capital Watch. US investors like Marc Merlino, head of Citi's global subsidiaries group started to explore the field, she writes.

Sara Hsu:
While investing directly in poorly screened OBOR projects directly may not make sense, Marc Merlino, to his credit, noted that ventures surrounding major OBOR projects provide huge potential for returns. Merino states, "it's the opportunities for micro infrastructure beyond the core projects. All the knock-on effects ...." Certainly, after OBOR plans are carries out and the success of the construction can be more easily understood, investing in micro infrastructure could be quite profitable. 
Past evidence of profitability of backward linkages between major invested projects and the rest of the economy can be witnessed in China's special economic zones (SEZs). The clearest example of this is the city of Shenzhen, which was established as an SEZ in 1980, when it was a sleepy fishing village of 30,000 residents. Today, Shenzhen has become a megacity with a population of 12.53 million, and one of the most economically important cities in China. The city grew not only because of the influx of foreign direct investment, but also because of the growth of supporting industries. Many people who invested in the city early on have enjoyed significant profits as the city grew. 
Prudent analysis would require that investors financing micro projects surrounding an OBOR project should perform the due diligence that China's policy banks might have failed to undertake. This may require more resources to carry out than individual investors have, but is feasible for large institutional investors or lenders like Citi. In sum, investors need to proceed prudently with regard to OBOR projects and recognize that many of the projects have been insufficiently vetted. Plans surrounding visibly successful OBOR projects may bear fruit as long as investors focus on assessing and hedging against risks. After this work is done, one can be cautiously optimistic about such plans. 
Image result for one belt one road
More at Capital Watch.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

At last: opening the China markets for IPO's - Shaun Rein

Shaun Rein
Many successful Chinese companies listed in the US, rather than in China, because of the stringent regulations in their own country. Now going IPO in China is at least becoming easier, says business analyst Shaun Rein, author of The War for China's Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order to Harbour Times. And some Chinese companies might come back from the US.

Harbour Times:
Xiaomi filed documents in early May to list in Hong Kong. The company is expected to raise $10 billion from the offering and aimed for a valuation of about $100 billion, despite the head of the company’s top lawyer Zhang Liang said in March 2015 that the company had no plans to list within the next 5 years. 
The application came after the China Securities Regulatory Commission reportedly issued new listing rules in April in hopes of retaining potential technological giants in the home market, by promising fast-tracked approvals and easing regulations, on top of additional incentives. 
The new rules allow non-listed local companies to conduct initial public offerings without meeting the traditional financial requirements, according to reports. 
“Changing the requirements will unlock opportunities for both start-ups and investors and is something that should have been done years ago,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of the China Market Research Group in Shanghai. 
“Many Chinese firms that would prefer to go public in China ended up listed in the US instead because of onerous profit requirements. In fact, many great companies like Amazon never would have been allowed to go public in China if they had been Chinese start-ups.” 
Meanwhile, the pain of losing out on a listing by Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba in 2014 has also prompted the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) to examine new measures.
More at the Harbour Times.

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Social currency in an online society - Tom Doctoroff

Tom Doctoroff
China's deep Confucian roots do influence the way the internet has developed, says marketing veteran Tom Doctoroff, author of What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism, and China's Modern Consumer, to the South Morning Post. “I call it pride commerce, where there is the idea that you are what you buy … and that sharing your interests is a way to make your identity stronger,” Doctoroff said.

The South China Morning Post:
Social+ apps have also gained traction because Chinese tend to be more expressive and open online compared to in person due to the strong influence of Confucian values that minimise individualism in favour of the collective good, according to Tom Doctoroff, chief cultural insights officer at branding and marketing consultancy Prophet. 
“The Chinese often generate social currency through their activities and online persona. The online world is a place where you can project your identity safely, and so there is a greater amount of expressive liberation happening online in China relative to other countries,” he said. 
As China continues to prosper and its middle class becomes more affluent, many Chinese want their interests or material possessions to reflect that they are “sophisticated and worldly”, so many are happy to share their personal interests or purchases with others online, he said. 
“I call it pride commerce, where there is the idea that you are what you buy … and that sharing your interests is a way to make your identity stronger,” Doctoroff said.
More in the South China Morning Post.

Tom Doctoroff is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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US and China lock horns on tech - Arthur Kroeber

Arthur Kroeber
The trade dispute between the US and China is moving from commodities to tech, says economist Arthur Kroeber, author of China's Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know® to the South China Morning Post. Getting a deal will be tough, says Kroeber: “The problem from China’s perspective is: can you trust the US to stick to any deal you cut with them?”

The South China Morning Post:
Arthur Kroeber, research head of China-focused Gavekal Dragonomics, said rivalry between China and the US was intensifying.
“Some kind of deal on tariffs or deficit reduction is possible but the underlying tech and strategic issues will not go away,” he said. 
China’s ambitions to become a tech superpower through programmes like its “Made in China 2025” strategy to support the domestic hi-tech sector and the belt and road trade and infrastructure plan were perceived as “a direct challenge to US geopolitical and geo-economic leadership”, Kroeber said... 
“China is struggling to figure out what would be the right strategy because it is difficult to negotiate with the Trump administration,” Kroeber said. “The problem from China’s perspective is: can you trust the US to stick to any deal you cut with them?”
More in the South China Morning Post.

Arthur Kroeber is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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How 'social' became crucial for internet business in China - Shaun Rein

Shaun Rein
Social connectivity has become crucial for life and business in China. "If you want to do well as an internet company today, you need to be strong on the social aspect, otherwise you won’t be able to gain any traction," tells business analyst Shaun Rein, author of The War for China's Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order, to the South China Morning Post.

The South China Morning Post:
Such business models are successful because China leapfrogged the personal computer era and saw tremendous growth in mobile internet and smartphone users, according to Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group. 
“Smartphones are inherently social devices, and many of China’s tech companies built services with the smartphone in mind. Social networking was also an area where China’s technology companies had little competition because foreign players were blocked from entering the market by the government.” 
Such favourable market conditions allowed Chinese internet companies to greatly influence how social media and social networking sites operated in China. 
“Social has now become a big part of the Chinese internet and the ecosystem of services. If you want to do well as an internet company today, you need to be strong on the social aspect, otherwise you won’t be able to gain any traction,” Rein said... 
“In a landscape where Chinese consumers are unsure of which products and services are good they are more likely to trust what their friends are using, buying or recommending,” said China Marketing Research Group’s Rein.
More in the South China Morning Post.

Shaun Rein is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

What does China want? - Shaun Rein

Shaun Rein
China is adamant when it says it does not want to replace the United States as an international player. But what does it want, asks The Diplomat Shaun Rein, author of The War for China's Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order. " Many nations feel Western, historically ethnically white nations have an outsized say in institutions like the World Bank or IMF and feel the U.S. contains their growth."

The Diplomat:
Describe the core construct of China’s new world order. 
American policymakers need to understand China is not looking to challenge and replace the American-led world order as the Soviet Union wanted during the Cold War. President Xi wants China to have a greater say in international affairs that an economic power of China’s size deserves. Many nations feel Western, historically ethnically white nations have an outsized say in institutions like the World Bank or IMF and feel the U.S. contains their growth. 
By launching initiatives like One Belt, One Road [OBOR] and using economic carrots and sticks with other nations, China hopes to gain more influence. Worried about President Trump upending long-term alliances and relationships, many nations like the Philippines are moving closer to China’s orbit and benefiting from China’s economic largesse. However, such economic carrots come with a price — adherence to China’s political aims and loss of political independence. Like it has done with South Korea, Norway, and Mongolia, China will punish nations that cross it politically by stopping trade and by using the state-owned media to rally consumers to boycott brands. 
Explain how China’s innovation and investment strategy shapes China’s world order. 
China uses economic carrots like low interest loans and infrastructure investments to curry political favor from nations in a divide-and-conquer plan. For example, many ASEAN nations criticize China for its reclamation of islands in the South China Sea which many countries view China using as unsinkable destroyers in the event of war. 
To blunt criticism, China essentially buys support from nations like Laos and Cambodia by showering them with low interest loans and infrastructure projects. In return, Cambodia mutes criticism of China in ASEAN pronouncements. There is clearly a quid pro quo deal in place. 
China uses similar strategies in Europe with Hungary and Ethiopia in Africa. For example, earlier this month every European nation ambassador in China except for Hungary signed a letter criticizing China for not opening up projects enough for foreign firms in the One Belt, One Road initiative. Most likely China will dole out economic benefits to Hungary in the coming months in a similar to way that it opened up 12 direct flights for Ethiopian Airlines to China, just weeks after Ethiopia publicly supported China while other African nations were criticizing it, making that country’s national carrier the main hub for Africa-China flights.
More at the Diplomat.

Shaun Rein is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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In China's working culture, time's are changing - William Bao Bean

William Bao Bean
For a long time, working around the clock - from 9 to 9, six days a week known as the 996-rule - was common in China's startup working culture. But those times are changing, says SOSV managing director William Bao Bean, a leading voice in China's startup scene to the BBC. “China has moved from a society that was told what to do, to one that is doing what it wants to, and that’s also a millennial thing,” he says.

The BBC:
There are historical reasons behind the emergence of the 996 culture. When China’s tech and start-up scene started to flourish in the early 2000s, most companies sought employees willing to work around the clock, something which helped some of them grow into the country’s biggest companies. Tech company Tencent, for example, is among the world’s five most valuable firms. 
“For the last 10 or 15 years, the work culture has been extremely intense,” said William Bao Bean, a venture capitalist and the managing director of start-up accelerator Chinaccelerator. And because China’s tech companies, who were among the first adopters of unpaid overtime, are now the largest employers, companies in other fields have also started to make their staffs work longer hours in a bid to match their success. 
The normalisation of unpaid overtime led to the invention of the phrase 996 – but Bao Bean says the very existence of the phrase is also a sign that attitudes might be changing.   
“The fact that there is now a word for it and that we are having a conversation about this shows that the market is maturing,” he says. 
However, Bao Bean says that people who like their work environments are not grumbling about the hours. Companies who inspire their employees offer good compensation packages and that are prestigious can find people to work 996 without complaint, he says. 
“China has moved from a society that was told what to do, to one that is doing what it wants to, and that’s also a millennial thing,” he says.
More at the BBC.

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The 2008 Sichuan earthquake is still sending aftershocks - Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson
The devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake is still sending tremors into China's society, writes journalist Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, in the NY Review of Books."China’s supreme rulers today also have a strong hold over their citizens, but their edifice might not be immune from seismic change in society."

Ian Johnson:
Today’s state—as, in centuries past, dominated by ethnic Chinese—offered a modern version of historic patterns of displacement. First, Qiang cultural practices were recorded and turned into ethnographic objects as “intangible cultural heritage.” This was then packaged as a tourist destination for Chengdu’s inhabitants. Slogans were tossed about, such as turning the stretch from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou scenic area into a “Tibetan-Qiang cultural corridor.” 
Probably the most dubious example of this was in the town of Beichuan, which was one of the centers of the earthquake. Its ruins were not torn down or rebuilt but reinforced and left as an aestheticized freak show for visitors—a town in what scholars have called a “fixed stage of collapse.” One of its special features is the Earthquake Science Experience Center, where movies of earthquakes are shown. Opened in 2016, it is located directly beneath the site of the ruined Beichuan High School—a graveyard of hundreds of children. 
Besides entertainment, visitors are encouraged to “work energetically for the country’s prosperity and glory.” The government’s heroism is emphasized, with Communist Party officials praised for working for the public good despite their personal losses. 
The state’s dominance is reflected in Beichuan’s memorials. Over the years, locals have tried to put up their own small places of remembrance, but only government memorials are allowed. Most locals refuse to visit them because they get so much tourist traffic. Instead, the bereaved burn incense or put flowers at the site of their loved ones’ demise—but these are quickly cleaned away by the authorities. It is little wonder that a local teenage girl told a team of visiting Chinese and foreign researchers that “the city is rebuilt, we are finally settled and life takes up its course again, and yet people haven’t found peace and serenity.” 
In China, the state’s presence is overwhelming—and often dictatorial. It locked up Tan Zuoren and beat up Ai Weiwei. It closed down the Chinese journalists’ trying to report on corruption. It bulldozed the Qiangs’ culture and means to turn them into minstrels for Chinese tourists. And yet, from the state’s perspective, these are perhaps regrettable side-effects of a larger good: its ability to rule. 
This is what the political theorist Richard Löwenthal called a “development dictatorship”: it develops, therefore it is. It has impoverished mountain people and so, while mouthing pieties about participation and sending out teams of academics to conduct field surveys, it builds highways and hotels up into the mountains to rescue them from their own culture and history. 
As for the do-gooders in Chengdu, the authorities understand that people need something to believe in—after all, in the past, people actually believed in Communism, too. So they pass NGO and charity laws that allow these bleeding hearts to band together—under government supervision, of course—to donate their time and money. 
This is all very well—after the fashion of a harried parent who allows a child to cut the grass with a plastic mower. Except that, in reality, the child is a co-owner of the house and has ideas about how to manage the yard, while the parent obsessively demands control and recognition. Thus, when China’s then leader, Hu Jintao, left power in 2012, one of the scenes shown at his farewell video tribute was of him visiting the site of the earthquake. Later, when Xi Jinping took office and issued his slogan of creating a “China Dream,” his propagandists included images of soldiers rescuing people from an earthquake. Good Samaritans are well and good, was their message, but it’s the big boys who do the real work. 
Just as people were naïve to assume that the activism of 2008 would become the norm, though, it is also premature to conclude that today’s retrenched state dominance is the final word. When the surplus capital created by the Dujiangyan waterworks helped Qin Shihuangdi unite China for the first time more than two millennia ago, his empire seemed unassailable. And yet his zeal to unify and control was his undoing—he was deposed after just a decade in power. 
China’s supreme rulers today also have a strong hold over their citizens, but their edifice might not be immune from seismic change in society.
Much more in the New York Review of Books.

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Monday, May 07, 2018

How brands can overcome political problems - Tom Doctoroff

Tom Doctoroff
Cartoon Peppa Pig was the latest to get into China's political crosshairs, but it was not the first and will not be the last, says branding expert Tom Doctoroff. For Mumbrella Asia he gives a quick overview of those problems, and some tips to avoid them, and limit the damage when you get caught.

Tom Doctoroff:
But, once anger abates, normalcy returns. Chinese consumers are even more pragmatic than nationalistic. Superior value always wins the day. 
That said, there is no room for complacency. 
The best armor is a compelling and well-defined brand purpose, a consistent long-term relationship between consumer and brand that underpins all subsequent engagement with that brand. It articulates a brand’s calling and how it contributes to consumers’ lives. 
SK-II overcame its scandal by elevating the brand’s purpose from functional anti-aging to an emotive “power to change your destiny.”  It resolved a conflict between women’s desire to both conform to conventional standards of beauty and escape the confines of societal expectations. The brand’s efforts were multidimensional. For example, it created a social movement to arm “left behinds” – unmarried women over the age of 27 – with the confidence to be beautiful at any age. 
Brands must also be “customer obsessed”. 
In an era of consumer empowerment fueled by technology, experience is king. From a delivery app that reveals courier location to facial recognition that generates tailored menu recommendations, KFC occupies a high ground of “seamless personalisation” within the quick service restaurant category. 
Starbucks has overcome media brouhahas about tainted meat and price gouging. But business is booming – there are more than 3,000 stores across the PRC – because the brand offers inspired customer experience, not just coffee.
More in Mumbrella Asia.

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Chinese spinoffs: a different story - Paul Gillis

Spinoffs are typically business transactions where the total of all entities increase their value by splitting up their existing business. But not so for Chinese companies, listed in the US, argues Beida accounting professor Paul Gillis. Not the shareholders or the company gains, but mostly management, he explains at his weblog.

Paul Gillis:
Spinoffs are situations where a corporation disposes of part of its business by giving shares in the business to shareholders. When they work, the value of the parts is greater than the value of the whole. “Spinoffs” of US listed Chinese companies work differently. 
A favorite transaction of US listed Chinese companies is to "spin off" parts of the business in a new entity in an IPO transaction. Shareholders of the parent company are not distributed shares of the company that does an IPO although they may benefit if the value of the underlying shares is recognized in the stock price. There have been a number of these transactions and several in the pipeline. 
I have observed, however, that the biggest winners in these transactions appear to be members of management. Management typically ends up with a big chunk of these deals which are structured in a way that does not report as expense the value transferred to them. 
Rather than point to a specific transaction, I am going to examine these transactions through a straw man. When I look at specific transactions, I find the public documents obscure what is going on and add bells and whistles that do not alter the essence of the transaction while providing arguments to counter any attacks on the structure. So, the transaction I describe below is fictitious, although I think fairly represents what is going on. I leave it to others to apply this to specific transactions. I apologize, but this simplified example is still complicated as hell.
The full case at the Chinaaccountingblog.

Paul Gillis is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form. Are you looking for more financial analysts at the China Speakers Bureau? Do check out this list.  

Friday, May 04, 2018

Why the trade talks will lead nowhere - Arthur Kroeber

Arthur Kroeber
The Trump team has started trade talks in Beijing, but it is very unlikely they will get anywhere, says economist Arthur Kroeber, author of China's Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know®, in CBS. The internal divisions in the US team are only a part of the problems to gain ground, he says.

CBS:
The talks are unlikely to accomplish much, noted Arthur Kroeber, head of research for Gavekal Research. The American "coalition of trade warriors and national security hawks" agree that China poses a threat to U.S. dominance, yet they haven't formed a "coherent strategy," he said in a research note. 
"Above all, the professionals are hamstrung by President Donald Trump, who absurdly insists that the main goal should be a US$100 billion reduction in the bilateral trade deficit," he said. 
He added, "The team-of-rivals delegation brings differing objectives to Beijing. Mnuchin would probably like to cut a deal on tariffs and deficit reduction and focus on improving market access for US firms in the lucrative China market."
More on CBS.

Arthur Kroeber is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.

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