The Heritage Foundation

Asian Backgrounder #55

December 23, 1986

December 23, 1986 | Asian Backgrounder on

Why the U.S. Must Oppose the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone

(Archived document, may contain errors)

No. 55 December 23, 1986



The United States must decide soon whether or not to sign three protocols to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone:Treaty. These protocols would commit the U.S. not to station or test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific or to use such weapons against members of the Treaty. But signing the protocols would limit U.S. military options at a time of increased Soviet activity in the South Pacific. In addition, the U.S. would be legitimizing an anti-Western political movement calling, in effect, for unilateral disarmament, which already has captured New Zealand's Labor government, resulting in the destruction of the ANZUS Alliance, and could threaten the NATO Alliance in Britain, Germany, and Canada.

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, known by the clumsy acronym SPNFZT, was signed in August 1985 by eight of thirteen members of the South Pacific Forum: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Western Samoa, Tuvala, Kiribati, Niue, and the Cook Islands. The Reagan Administration is under pressure from the Australian Labor government and other Forum members to sign the protocols to demonstrate U.S. "sensitivity" to regional anti-nuclear "concerns." The SPNFZT prohibits signatories from acquiring, testing, or stationing nuclear weapons within a zone roughly south of the equator, comprising the territories of the thirteen South Pacific Forum members. The treaty does, however, permit each member to determine its own policy toward visits by ships and aircraft that may be nuclear armed, and it does not seek to obstruct innocent-passage by such

Vessels. The SPNFZT protocols would have the U.S. apply the treaty 'provisions to territories within the zone, such as American Samoa, and undertake not to test nuclear weapons or threaten to use them against countries within the zone. To 'date', the treaty has been ratified by Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Niue, Cook Islands, Turalu, Kiribati, and Western Samoa. Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands', and Tonga have not signed, while Papua New Guinea and Nauru have signed but not ratified the Treaty. In addition to the U.S., France, Britain, the People's. Republic of China, and the Soviet Union are being asked to sign some or all-of the protocols.

The Australian Labor government and the other South Pacific states hope the treaty will prevent superpower rivalry in the South Pacific. But it is too late for that. Moscow for years has been trying overtly and covertly to establish its political and military presence in the region. While it will not halt these Soviet efforts, SPNFZT could constrain U.S. attempts to counter future dangerous Soviet moves. This is particularly alarming because the SPNFZT definition of territory to be covered by the treaty may not remain fixed. The South Pacific "peace" movement envisions expanding the nuclear free zone to Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.

In view of these uncertainties and potential dangers, Washington should not sign the SPNFZT protocols. Instead it should devise a policy to protect U.S. interests in the South Pacific. This policy should begin with the appointment of a high-level U.S. delegation, which should journey to the distant South Pacific Forum States to explain American reservations about the treaty. Washington should tell Australia that the treaty could further damage the longstanding U.S.-Australian defense relationship already burdened by New Zealand's undermining of ANZUS. This loose, but important, alliance had joined Australia, New Zealand, and the U.'S. until New Zealand's anti-nuclear policies made it inoperative in 1985. The U.S. also should state frankly to Australia and New Zealand its concern about labor unions that are actively promoting Soviet goals in the region by radicalizing trade unions in the smaller South'Pacific island-states.

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty will not prevent superpower competition in the South Pacific. But by reducing the value of the ANZUS Alliance, SPNFZT will increase the risk of conflict, because it weakens a chain of Western alliances that have kept the peace since 1945.


The movement culminating in the August 1985 signing of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty began in the early 1970s as a protest against French atmospheric nuclear testing in French Polynesia. Regional pressure, led by New Zealand, forced French testing V underground in 1973. New Zealand's Labor government, in office from 1972 to 1975, also led the region in pressing for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone for the South Pacific and played a key role in the 1975 United Nations General Assembly resolution endorsing such a zone. The proposal lay dormant after Conservative governments took office in New Zealand in 1975 and in Australia the following year, but it was revived in 1983 by the new Australian Labor government of Prime Minister Robert Hawke. Additional impetus came in 1984 from New Zealand's new Labor government headed by Prime Minister David Lange. And signing SPNFZT followed shortly after.

Preventing proliferation and use of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific is the main goal of SPNFZT. 112 Under its Article 3. each party undertakes "not to manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear device; not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture or acquisition of any explosive device; not to take any action to assist or encourage the manufacture or acquisition of any nuclear explosive device."

In Article 4 each party agrees "not to provide source or fissionable material, or equipment or material especially designed or prepared for the processing, use or production of special fissionable material for peaceful purposes" to other countries unless subject to 3 safeguards in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty .

In Article 5 "each party undertakes to prevent in its territory the stationing of any nuclear explosive device." The Treaty defines stationing to mean "emplantation, emplacement, transportation on land or inland waters, stockpiling, storage, installation and deployment." A second clause states that each party "remains free to decide for itself whether to allow visits by foreign ships or aircraft." Australia insisted on this clause to meet Washington's concerns that

1. NGnistry of Foreign Affairs, Wellington, New Zealand, French Nuc ear Testing In The Pacif ic July 1973.

2. Report By The Chairman Of The Working Group On A South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone To The South Pacific Forum, Rarotonga, August 4-6, 1985, p. 9.

3. The 1968 Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which has been signed by some 60 countries, commits the parties to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials and technology from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons. the treaty not obstruct innocent passage of U.S. 'warships or impede alliance cooperation.

Regional environmental concerns are addressed in Article 6, which prohibits each party from testing within the zone, and Article 7, which prohibits each party from dumping radioactive waste within the zone. This article most directly affects France which maintains underground nuclear testing facilities and continues to test at ruroa in French Polynesia.

France, Britain, and the U.S. are requested by the Treaty signatories as of December 1. 1986, to sign protocols 1, 2, and 3 to the SPNFZT; the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union are requested to sign Protocols 2 and 3. Protocol 1 asks that each party apply Articles 3, 5, and 6--dealing with the manufacturing, stationing, and testing of nuclear weapons--to territories within the zone. Protocol 2 asks each party "not to use or threaten to use" nuclear weapons against Parties to the Treaty. Protocol 3 asks each party not to test nuclear weapons within the zone. Withdrawal from each protocol is allowed after three months prior notice.

In New Zealand and Australia, legislation has been introduced to enact the Treaty. New Zealand's bill goes beyond the Treaty to establish a strict New Zealand nuclear free zone'and to provide mechanisms for contributing to arms control and disarmament. Example: any New Zealand citizen found to "aid,,. abet, incite,, counsel, or .procure any person to manufacture or acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear device" in or outside New Zealand faces up to ten years imprlsorment.4 Australia's bill prohibits stationing in Australia any nuclear weapons as defined in the SPNFZT. But it also specifies that visits or passage of foreign ships and aircraft through Australia, including dry dockipg of ships, whether or not they have nuclear weapons, is permitted.


SPNFZT seems part of'an effort by leftist trade unions, self-proclaimed peace groups, and a few church organizations to make the South Pacific "nuclear free and independent." The essential aims of this movement are:

1) To bar U.S. nuclear-powered and armed ships from the region;

4. New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Bill, clauses 5, 14.

5. South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986, Articles 11, 15. 2) To abolish "foreign" (read U.S.) military bases from the region;

3) To dissolve defense alliances between the U.S. and such Pacific allies as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines; 4) To combat "imperialism" or Western economic influence; and 5) To promote "independence struggles" such as are being waged by the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLUES) 6in New Caledonia and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Since the mid-1970s, the nuclear free zone issue increasingly has dominated the South Pacific peace movement. The issue also has been promoted by the left wings of the Australian and New Zealand Labor Parties. Since 1975 there have been four Pacific-wide Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Conferences. The 1975 conference was in Fiji, sponsored by the Pacific Conference of Churche? (PCC), which is affiliated with the World Council of Churches, an organization known to be heavily influenced by the Soviets. The 1983 conference in Vanuatu featured the Dutch Inter-Church Peace Council activist Govert van Oord, one of the leaders of the campaign-'against deployment in Western Bukope of U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles earlier this decade.8 Also featured at the 1983 conference was Owen Wilkes, a leading spokesman in the New Zealand "peace" movement who was convicted of spying in Sweden in 1982. The main target of the anti-nuclear campaign is the U.S. military presence in Asia. Par more conference time was devoted to criticizing the U.S. than to discussing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Moscow's role in Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, Korea, or the growing Soviet naval buildup in the Pacific.

The 1985 Australian Nuclear Disarmament Conference listed as one of its goals t ?e exposure of the myth that "the Soviet Union is expansionist." An information kit at Australia's Pacific

6. John Whitehall, "'Peace' in the Pacific," Free om at Issue, September-October 1984, p. 12.

7. PPAF/PCC Joint Conference Committee, Nuclear Free Paci fic and Indeoendence Movements ConferenceL Suva, Fiji, 1979.

8. Christopher Dobson, "Vigilance in Vanuatu -- With One Eye Closed," Far Eastern Economic Review September 8, 1983, p. 30.

9. "Alternative Foreign and Defense Policy For Australia," Australian Nuclear Disarmament Conference, Melbourne, 1985, p. - 19. Connections National Conference in April 1986 drew delegate attention to the possibility of an "American threat" to the South Pacific.10

These movements seem to wield political power. In February 1985, for example, Australia refused to let a U.S. aircraft land to monitor an MX missile test after an outcry from the Labor Party's left wing. Prime Minister Robert Hawke also bowed to leftist pressure in opposing the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. In New Zealand, Prime Minister David Lange's Labor government promotes strict anti-nuclear policies to placate the powerful leftist trade unions. In mid-December, Frank Corner, a former Foreign Affairs Secretary in New Zealand, who also recently chaired a comprehensive defense policy review for the current government, said that "New Zealand's Defense Policy had effectively been hijacked by a small anti-nuclear lobby.It" As SPNFZT now stands, it fails to satisf some "peacelt movement elements and the most radical island states. Irv Vanuatuts Prime Minister Father Walter Lini, for example, refuses to sign the treaty because he says it does not go far enough in banning nuclear weapons or stopping French nuclear tests.

Anti-nuclear sentiment,may spread to the former U.S. trust territories of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands' and the Northern Mariana Islands. There is a particular problem with the Republic of Palau. It has not yet approved its Compact of Free Association, which would make it self-governing, while Washington retained foreign policy and defense responsibility in exchange for economic assistance. The Compact would allow the U.S. military, including nuclear weapons, to have access to Palau. The trouble is that the Palau constitution contains an anti-nuclear provision, which can be changed only by a 75 percent voter approval. A majority of voters in this country with a population of only 14,000 have approved the Compact in three separate plebiscites (in early 1986 some 72 percent okayed the change), but the number always falls short of the required 75 percent. As such, Palauts constitutional anti-nuclear provision continues to make it impossible for Palau to accept the Compact of Free Association. Anti-nuclear groups, of

10. J.1VL Anthony, "Great Power Involvement in Oceania,n Making Waves Toward a Nuclear Free and Inder)endent Pacific. Australia's Pacific Connection's Conference, Sydney, April 25-27, 1986, P. 2.

11. Executive News Service (Wellington, New Zealand), December 12, 1986.

12. Hamish McDonald, "Nuclear-free zone agreed," Far Eastern Economic Review August 22, 1985, p. 43; Greg Fry, "The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars number 2, 1986, p. 61. course, were instrumental in attaching the anti-nuclear provision to the constitution in 1979.

The Kwajalein testing range for U.S. missiles is located in the Marshall Island chain, while Palau is viewed as a likely alternative base if access to Philippine bases ends. Both the Marshalls and Federated States of Micronesia have decided to join the South Pacific Forum, and Palau could follow suit.


In a July 28 speech in Vladivostok, Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev declared Moscow's intention to expand its ties with South Pacific nations. 13 Since the early 1970s, in fact, through overt and covert means, Moscow has sought to build a political and military presence in the region. By this, Moscow seeks to put political pressure on Australia and New Zealand, secure Soviet sea lanes to its Antarctic bases, deny sea lanes!around the tip of South America, and improve access to pro-Soviet insurgents in South America. 14

South Pacific island leaders traditionally have rebuffed Soviet diplomatic and economic overtures. Increasing economic difficulties, however,, and the rise of a new generation of'South Pacific leaders less familiar with distant Soviet totalitarianism and U.S. sacrifices in liberating the islands from Japanese occupation has reduced .opposition to the Soviets. In 1985 Kiribati accepted $1.5 million in- exchange for one-year Soviet fishing access to its economic exclusion zone. Even though this amounted to nearly 10 percent of Kiribati's national budget, the island-state decided not to renew the agreement. International pressure and the fact the Soviets did not want to pay as much this year contributed to the decision. If Moscow were to gain shore access to Kiribati, Soviet intelligence-gathering "fishing" ships would be much closer to U.S. bases in Hawaii and well positioned to monitor U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative testing in Kwajalein,

13. "Gorbachev's July 28 Speech in Vladivostok," FBIS Asia-Pacific July 29, 1986, p. R 17.

14. Admiral Jose T. Merino, "Trouble in the Southern Pacific," U.S. Naval Institute Proccedines. December 1986, p. 80; David Brock, "Target Chile, The Soviet Union Tries a Comeback in South America," The Washington Times December 12, 1986, p. 613. eventually to establish satellite communications facilities, and to improve monitoring of their own mid-Pacific ballistic missile tests. Ir,

The Soviets have had better luck with Vanuatu, which had diplomatic relations with Cuba, Vietnam, and Libya before establishing direct ties with Moscow in June 1986. Father Walter Lini, Vanatuls Prime Minister, recently began negotiating with Moscow about a fishing access agreement and has hinted he would grant the Soviets port facilities. 16 Vanuatu already supports the radical Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) in New Caledonia and has helped obtain Libyan assistance for the FLNKS. 17

Mosco ,;w openly encourages the South Pacific anti-nuclear movement. Nikita Khrushchev first proposed an "atom-free Pacific" in 1959. Last July Gorbachev praised the South Pacific nuclear free zone, which, of course, does not affect any Soviet treaty alliances. Oddly, even greater Pacific nuclear free zones proposed by the "peace" movement exclude Vietnam, Vladivostok, or the Kamchatka Peninsula, location of a major Soviet naval base. In August, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minisiter Mikhail Kapitsa visited New Zealand and proposed military "confidence building measures," which presumably would lead to Soviet ship visits to that nation. 19 The Lange government declined. On December 15th, the Soviets signed protocols 2 and 3 to the SPNFZT.


The main Soviet overt allies in Australia and New Zealand are segments of the trade unions that are affiliated or work closely with the main Soviet trade %inion front, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). In Australia this includes the Melbourne-based

15. Rear Admiral Edward B. Baker, Jr., Director, East Asia and the Pacific Region, Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs, Statement Before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States House of Representatives, September 10, 1985, p. 5.

16. "Lini On Port Facilities for USSR, Other Issues," Melbourne Overseas Service, June 11, 1986, in FBIS Asia-Pacific June 18, 1986, p. M3.

17. "Transit Drama," Australia-Israel Review, November 18, 1986, p. 6.

18. "Gorbachev's Speech," ot). cit. "Russia Will Sign Nuclear-Free Treaty," New Zealand Herald August 27, 1986.

19. Cushla Managh, "Soviet Minister Hints at Accord," The Dominion August 27, 1986, p. 1. Amalgamated Metal Workers led by John Halfpenny, who was a leading member of the Communist F 0@rty of Australia.for a decade before joining the Labor Party in 1979. If not for last-minute intercession by the Labor Party National Council, Haltpenny would have been on Labor's Senate ticket for the 1987 elections. 21- In New Zealand the Soviets work through the Socialist Unity Party (SUP), whose leaders include Ken Douglas, who is Secretary General of the-New-Zealand Federation of Labor, the main collective bargaining forum. During its 1985 National Conference, the SUP examined how the New Zealand."peace" movement could help the Soviet Union and how it could move New Zealand into the nonaligned movement.

In 1980 Halfpenny, Douglas, and Jim Knox, now President of the New Zealand Federation of Labor, formed what now is called the Pacific Trade Union Community. The PTUC has been more active promoting anti-nuclear policies than in promoting trade unionism. Since 1980, it has held four region-wide conferences. At its May 1986 gathering in New Zealand, the PTUC declared it would coordinate union activities to promote a "nuclear free Pacific" and "national liberation and 22 independence" movements. Halfpenny and Knox are also closely affilhated with the new Fiji Labor Party (FLP), established in June 1985. In the December 1985 local elections, the FLP candidate became Mayor of Suva, Fiji's capital. FLP wants to end Fiji's current pro-Western foreign policy, changing it to nonalignment and anti-nuclearism with closer ties with Moscow. 4FLP leaders Krishna Datt and Mahendra Chaudry attended the October World Federation of Trade Unions Congress in East Berlin. The PTUC also appears to be trying to encourage unions to form Labor parties in the Solomon Islands and other island-states.

20. Bob Santamaria, "The Metamorphosis of Mr. Half penny," Weekly. News, September 10, 1986, p. 14.

21. Mike Seccombe and David Wilson, "Half penny Dumped ALP Reinstates Button," The Australian (Melbourne), September 22, 1986, p. 1.

22. "Strengthen Pacific trade unions: PTUF," Fiii Labor Sentinel May/June 1986, p. 2; "P.T.U.F. takes on higher profile in Pacific," News Weekl.Y, June 4, 1986, p. 3.

23. Anthony McAdam, "A move toward radicalism as Indians'Scatter," The Bulletin, November 25, 1984, p. 108.

24. Timoci Bavadra, President, Fiji Labor Party, "Self -Determination For a Nuclear Free Pacific," South Pacific Forum (University of the South Pacific, Fiji), December 1985, p. 166. AUSTRALIAN DEBATE ON SPNFZT

The Australian Labor government contends that SPNFZT "contributes to, rather than erodes, Western security interests in tge Pacific" by preserving "a stable pro-Western security environment.11 Hawke's government contends that SPNFZT was drafted carefully to take account of U.S. strategic interests and Australia's alliance obligations. It does not, Australia claims, interfere with the right of signatory states to"host U.S. ship visits. A negative or evasive U.S. response to the request that the V.S. sign the Protocols, it is argued, will be regarded as unresponsive to regional concerns and will make it more difficult fo objectives. Up friendly countries to support Western security

Australia's Liberal Party-National Party coalition, the opposition to Hawke, flatly opposes SPNFZT. Because of the too broad definition of "stationing,," opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Andrew Peacock contends that SPNFZT would "straitjacket" future Australian governments that might want to offer home ports or bases for nuclear-powered or armed sqips and aircraft in the event of an .increased threat to Australia. The opposition also contends SPNFZT will not halt Soviet nuclear deployments in the region. As such, the opposition argues, the Treaty is "a diversion from the real task of achieving meaningful arms control."28


New Zealand's anti-nuclear policies have made its government incapable of fulfilling its alliance obligations'under the ANZUS treaty. This forced U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz last June to suspend U.S. security obligations to New Zealand. This was the first break in the chain of Western alliances, which have deterred Soviet aggression since 1945.

The New Zealand case does not exist in-isolation. Radical wings of the British Labor Party, the German Social Democratic Party, and the Canadian Labor Party all embrace an anti-nuclear movement that

25. Australian Defense Nfinister Kim Beazley, "Letters to the Editor," The Wall Street Journal December 5. 1986, P. 27.

26. Australian Ambassador F. Rawdon Dalrymple, "Australia And The South Pacific," speech to the World Affairs Council, November 12, 1986, p. 11.

27. Hansard-Representatives, August.20, 1986, p. 356.

28. Opposition Leader John Howard, Keynote Address, Forum For Freedom, Symposium On Australia's Defense, September 7, 1986. focuses almost exclusively on the West. As such, a U.S. strategy opposing the anti-nuclear movement in the South Pacific would have a significant impact elsewhere.

The Reagan Administration correctly has already mounted public opposition to New Zealand's anti-nuclear policies. Now the Administration should refuse to sign the three Protocols to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. The U.S. should declare that these protocols would eliminate valuable military options that Australia and the U.S. may need in the-future. A Soviet base in the South Pacific or the end of U.S. bases in the Philippines may require a closer U.S.-Australian security relationship that would necessarily include options ruled out by SPNFZT. Protocol 1. in fact, even would deny the U.S. the right to store nuclear weapons in American Samoa, because the Protocol calls on the Parties to apply Treaty Article 5 to their territories within the zone.

Protocol 2, which calls on the Parties not to use nuclear weapons against treaty signatories legally could prevent the U.S. from adequately deterring attack by Soviet nuclear-armed ships and aircraft that might gain regional bases.

Protocol 3, which asks the Parties not to test in the Zone, is a slap against France, which conducts nuclear testing in its territory in support of its independent nuclear deterrent. The U.S. consistently has supported France's independent nuclear deterrent capability as part of its NATO strategy.

Finally, Washington should not sign the protocols because it would legitimize a generally anti-U.S. campaiign-for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The South Pacific "peace" movement almost surely will seek to strengthen and enlarge the nuclear-free zone in the future. Instead of legitimizing this process, the U.S. should devote more resources to explaining and promoting its own policies in the South Pacific.

A start would be to send a high-level U.S. delegation to confer with South Pacific leaders and tell them why the U.S. will not sign the protocols. The delegation should stress that SPNZT would reduce further ANZUS as an instrument for regional defense by removing defense options that might be needed to react to Soviet incursions. The delegation should stress that the current Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Soviet-supported war by Vietnam against Cambodia, and the continuing Soviet military buildup do not indicate peaceful Soviet intentions for the South Pacific. The moral of this is: Despite signing the SPNFZT protocols, Moscow will continue to meddle in the South Pacific. The U.S. should stress that, by weakening ANZUS, SPNFZT weakens the global Western alliance system that deters Soviet attack.

The U.S. also must take the lead in solving,a problem that Australia and New Zealand have been reluctant to confront: the growing Soviet inroads in the South Pacific via fostering radical trade unions. The Soviets may view these unions as political Trojan Horses in the economically and politically vulnerable South Pacific island-states. There should be immediate high-level consultations between Australia and the United States to address this issue.

Finally, the Reagan Administration and Congress should realize that, by promoting free market oriented economic growth in the island-states, the U.S. can do much more to diminish Moscow's opportunities for influence than by signing the SPNFZT protocols. An important first step in promoting economic growth would be the immediate U.S. Senate approval of the fishing treaty between the U.S. and the South Pacific Forum members to allow U.S. fishing access to their economic zones in exchange for nearly $60 million aid in the next five years. The treaty was signed this October and awaits Senate ratification. The U.S. aid should be targeted specifically at projects spurring economic growth.


The U.S. should not sign the three protocols of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. To do so only would weaken ANZUS further. The protocols also would limit U.S. military options in the South Pacific at a time when the Soviet Union has been@expanding its military presence. U.S. approval of the protocols, moreover, would legitimize an anti-nuclear movement in the South Pacific that is decidedly anti-American in design. The U.S. can-promote its regional interests better by devoting more attention to the South Pacific island-states, explaining how U.S. security concerns are in their security interests, and devising a new strategy for regional economic growth.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr. Policy Analyst

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