The assumptions made about British involvement in the Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) tend to rely on the constraints of geography rather than on interests in a rules-based system. This article argues that not only does Britain share interests with the Quad members in a free trading order—something that is threatened by Chinese and Russian policies —but it has also developed a set of capabilities and facilities across the region that give it reach. From the Persian Gulf and Oman, from Diego Garcia to Singapore, Brit- ain’s role in the Five Power Defence Arrangements and strategic relationships with regional powers mean that it is already an Indo-Pacific maritime power. Questions as to Britain’s inclusion in the still-evolving Quad are therefore entirely political in our opinion. Given the openness of Japan and the United States to external members, Britain could make for an interesting and useful addition to the Quad in the years ahead.
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Last month’s news that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was stepping down came like a thunderbolt from the blue. Once again, a health condition that had compelled him to step down in 2007, resurfaced. Whatever else one might say about Abe ‘the politician’ or Abe ‘the nationalist’, one cannot refute the fact that Abe the ‘grand strategist’ has had the most impact on Japan’s security posture since the Second World War. Of course, the question will be how Yoshihide Suga – his successor – adjusts Japan’s grand strategy in coming months before he calls an election. One thing is already obvious, Suga – and, indeed, the next generation of future prime ministers – will have to live with Abe’s legacy in one form or another.
This is all a long way from 2007, when Abe’s one-year premiership was already in the rear-view mirror. Even as he recovered his health, there were whispers in the corridors of Kasumigaseki that he intended to make a comeback and become prime minister again. At the time, many Japan-watchers were skeptical about his chances. His first year had not been particularly successful or popular. Indeed, the loss of the Upper House to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan had paved the way for their electoral in in 2009. Despite this inauspicious beginning, not only did Abe challenge his doubters by successfully running for LDP leadership in September 2012 but he campaigned on a slogan of “take back Japan” in November and won the premiership back in 2012.
In terms of domestic policies, Abe’s ambitions were grand, though the results were mixed. However, one felt spirits lift when he announced “Japan is back!” in a series of speeches deigned to launch “Abenomics”. Using three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform, the new basket of policies intended to get Japan out of the two-decade slump that had followed the 1992 bursting of the asset price bubble that characterized Japanese growth in the 1980s. For a conservative politician, he was deeply pragmatic and was willing to challenge traditional Japanese social and business structures in order to empower Japan.
Despite a mixed record in domestic policy, it is in the arena of foreign and security policy that Abe has had the most impact and the area where Suga – and other Prime Ministers – will benefit the most. During this period, he oversaw a strengthening of the office of the Prime Minister, giving it a national security council (modelled closely on the UK NSC) and supportive secretariat to effect good security policy. Abe also encouraged intelligence community reforms, creating the equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, readying the ground for other necessary intelligence reforms across Japan’s bureaucracies. In 2013, Japan passed a state secrets act, which was a badly-needed effort to criminalize espionage. Given the continued need for democratic societies to share intelligence on Chinese and Russian interference operations, foreign policy, and maritime expansionism, this legislation was badly needed. It still remains for Japan to create a classification system and clearance system that allows it to work more closely with the United States and its Five Eyes partners. This was followed in 2015, by the passage of controversial legislation allowing for Japan’s armed forces to take part in conflicts overseas.
For example, he took a concept floating around after the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami of turning the four countries that aided the region into a quasi-security partnership. This “Quadrilateral” included the US, Japan, Australia and India and has developed into a functional strategic alignment. As we enter an era of increased strategic competition, an era where a revitalized and expanded Chinese navy has begun to dominate and control vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, this group serves as a check on Chinese ambitions. While it lacks formal institutionalization or even the simple ability of collective defense inherent in traditional alliances, its ad hoc nature remains a strength, allowing for New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to join the original Quad members in a “plus” format. Though it’s unclear as to whether this ambiguity of the group will remain a strength – after all, defense guarantees are necessary for the deterrent of collective defense – it’s unclear as to whether member states are ready for formalization. Abe’s role in promoting the Quad was pivotal and its hybrid nature is a little reflective of Japan’s restrictions under the pacifist constitution.
Perhaps of even more significance is Abe’s role in promoting the “Indo-Pacific” over the historic “Asia-Pacific” framework. Recognizing India’s importance as a democratic balancer to future Chinese hegemony in the future of the region’s integration efforts, he promoted the concept of the Indo-Pacific in his 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian parliament and began systematically wooing Indian leaders to the framing. Including a democratic India in the future of Asia was not only good geopolitics, it was good geo-economics, as India’s population and democratic system balanced out China’s equally large population and authoritarian system. Not only did the idea go down well in New Delhi, it was eagerly taken up by other like-minded states in-region over subsequent years, with Australia, ASEAN, France, the UK and the US adopting either the framing or creating their own versions. In 2016, Tokyo put more flesh on the concept, unveiling the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”, which acted as a foil for Beijing’s increasingly China-centric vision of Asia’s future, while promoting openness and values to attract regional hedgers.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been an incredibly influential figure on the world stage and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have his work cut out for him. Not only must he uphold and continue the shift in Japan’s grand strategy, he must manage Japan’s famously difficult bureaucracy to do so. One of Abe’s greatest strengths was his team that brought together big thinkers – such as Nobukatsu Kanehara – with backroom operators – such as Shotaro Yachi, and Suga himself. Suga, the son of a farmer was well-known and well-feared by senior bureaucrats as someone who was dangerous to cross and who was deeply loyal to the Prime Minister. Mandarins who opposed the Prime Minister often found their promotions held up or relegated to less senior positions. According to rumor, when Abe heard that Suga was going to run for office in December last year, he said to Suga, “Yes, I can see you as prime minister, but who will be your ‘Suga’”? This puts much pressure upon Suga’s new chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato to manage the bureaucracy as efficiently as he once did. Whether or not Suga can succeed in the public nature of his new position – and not be tempted back into facilitation – will ultimately be a critical issue for him.
Looking back at the premiership of Shinzo Abe, it is clear that a complicated leader has left the stage. While his views on Japan’s militaristic past were less-than-ideal, his Indo-Pacific conceptualization and support for the Quad were instrumental in shaping a balancing coalition toward the PRC. It was also a highly liberal vision of regional order, replete with norms of openness, rules, and human rights – something no Japanese post-war leader had previously emphasized. While he has struggled with Japan’s historic issue – notably with South Korea – he has reached “across the aisle” multiple times. The breakdown in the relationship with South Korea must be seen in the context of his speeches in front of both houses of Australia’s Parliament and the US Congress on Japan’s wartime history. The speeches were full of regret and sorrow and were accordingly well-received. As Yoshihide Suga assumes the levers of Japanese power, he comes to a situation in which Tokyo’s grand strategy is well-stated and its influence at an all-high. He will have to manage the relationship with the United States, Japan’s close ally, a hegemonic China, and a cautious region in a world rocked by the pandemic and economic slowdown. One hopes he will do well.
Recent developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) competition between the United States and China are likely to have caught the attention of South Korea’s Blue House. As a close U.S. ally with a stake in the 5G debate, it has been watching the UK 5G debate very closely. After all, if a close U.S. ally such as the United Kingdom could incorporate Huawei in its 5G network without damaging its alliance with Washington, it would provide Seoul with support for its own inclusion of the Chinese tech company into its networks. However, all of this has changed in the wake of the U.S. announcement on May 15 that it would restrict Huawei’s ability to design and manufacture semiconductors using U.S. technology, with both the United Kingdom and Canada suddenly shifting their apparent willingness to include the Chinese company in their 5G networks.
First, Bell Canada and Telus, two of Canada’s largest telecoms, announced they would be awarding contracts solely to Ericsson and Nokia, Huawei’s Scandinavian rivals, studiously avoiding any mention of the Huawei bid. In London, the shift has been even more prominent, with Boris Johnson calling for a “major rethink” on China. According to media accounts, discussions at the Cabinet Office level began last week looking at ways of replacing Huawei in the country’s 5G network by 2023. As the United Kingdom already has a mixed supplier system incorporating Ericsson and Nokia, they are now searching for a third supplier to replace Huawei and are apparently in discussion with Japan’s NEC and South Korea’s Samsung. The United Kingdom is also leading discussions on the formation of a “D10 Club,” a telecommunications supplier group consisting of the G7 members plus India, Australia, and South Korea, which it hoped to put forward at the U.S.-hosted G7 summit in September. South Korea has already accepted an invitation to the summit, though as of writing the summit’s details have yet to be finalized
Its inclusion in the D10 and in the United Kingdom’s consideration of Samsung as a replacement for Huawei raises South Korea’s profile in the wider 5G ICT supply chain debate, something that the Blue House has, until now, sought to avoid for two reasons. First, this ICT “decoupling” is driving a wedge between technology supply chains, which are deeply integrated for South Korean companies. The growing bifurcation between the PRC and the United States in this new “technology cold war” puts South Korea squarely between its main security provider and its main trading partner: an unsustainable position over the long run. Second, while Samsung is itself a competitor of Huawei—particularly in the space of 5G patents and equipment—there are many South Korean companiesthat still wish to collaborate with Huawei and other leading Chinese technology firms who will resist the growing pressure to decouple in ICT.
This “security-trade dilemma” facing Seoul is not unique. Many U.S. allies are similarly dependent on China for trade and investment—Australia is a major example, having suffered an economic downturn, partly due to Covid-19 and partly due to a deterioration in relations with China. For South Korea, proximity is a serious factor, as 27 percent of South Korea’s exports in 2018 went to China, while only 12 percent went to the United States. As a result, the costs of a Chinese retaliation on South Korea’s economy are larger and have shaped Seoul’s low-profile approach to the debate thus far. Indeed, Chinese authorities have already sent warning signals to South Korea through multiple channels. In June 2019, China’s
National Development and Reform Commission allegedly “called out” Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix with warnings not to block trade with Huawei. China’s tourism boycott of South Korea for hosting the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) was said to have cost the country $5.1 billion in lost revenues. Therefore, it is not surprising that South Korea’s former Minister of Science and ICT You Young-min has asserted that the 5G issue is not even up for discussion: “Huawei security issues in 5G should not be discussed because China is sensitive to it. I’m afraid that there would be a dispute.”
The issue is hardly simple for South Korea, as it has mixed interests, particularly from companies such as Samsung which could increase market share in smartphones at Huawei’s expense. More importantly, Samsung can become a dominant 5G network supplier if Huawei’s global business in 5G equipment is effectively diminished. However, supply chain integration also means that Huawei is one of Samsung’s biggest customers for SK Hynix’s memory chips. Huawei alone accounts for 17 percent of South Korea’s electronics parts exports to China in 2019. Huawei not only buys parts from South Korea but also provides 5G-related equipment to South Korean companies such as LG U-plus. As a result, South Korean companies are torn. South Korean companies stand to gain long term from Huawei’s lost global market share in 5G-related off-shoots, such as wearable devices, smart infrastructure, and the Internet of Things (IoT), but this will be at the expense of short-term business and growth from Huawei and other PRC tech firms.
As South Korean policymakers are beginning to realize—as indeed many other nations are realizing in the wake of Covid-19—trade dependency on the PRC is increasingly becoming a national security vulnerability. As a result, a shift toward “diversification” is not unwelcome. Like their Japanese counterparts, South Korean firms have been gradually withdrawing from China as Chinese competitors absorb their intellectual property and establish cheaper rival products. This long-term trend became even more pronounced after the 2017 THAAD crisis showed how vulnerable Seoul was to Beijing’s economic coercion. Shortly thereafter, Samsung started to downsize its Chinese manufacturing presence, closing the Shenzhen production line in May 2018, followed by its Tianjin factory in December. As the trade war between the United States and China began to heat up, South Korean firms continued their exodus from China, going to replacements such as Vietnam, where South Korean FDI ($1.97 billion in the first half of 2018) actually exceeded FDI into China ($1.6 billion over the same period).
The prospect of increased South Korean visibility on this issue is not relished by President Moon Jae- in. After all, the overriding issue for the U.S.-ROK relationship has been base support, an issue with sensitive connotations domestically. However, there may be growing realization among South Korea’s leaders that the U.S. position on Huawei—and Chinese ICT supply chains in general—is a bipartisan one across Washington DC. This was the primary message during the Munich Security Conference in Germany held this past February, with senior Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff showing a rare example of bipartisanship by echoing the administration’s warnings about the Chinese company in their remarks. Slowly but surely, U.S. allies are beginning to realize that this issue is one where there is little daylight between the two parties in Washington.
While it is true that to date U.S. efforts to pressure their allies have only been reluctantly accepted, there are increasing signs that states wish to avoid the supply chain vulnerability that comes with dependence on China. The recent prospect of a British “D-10 Club” of countries at the next G7 provides a potential breakout for Seoul, Canberra, Tokyo, and other allies from the security-trade dilemma. Speculation that India’s is considering a ban of ZTE and Huawei components from its 5G networks also supports this trend. As a member among 10 major economies, South Korea will have less to fear from a vengeful China; as a collective that includes multiple U.S. allies, it will also be able to balance U.S. policy preferences with the interests of the wider group. Either way, any diplomatic grouping looking at both trade and security in relation to China would certainly bear watching.
“What have I come here to learn?” This was the question at the forefront of my mind as I entered a modern, glassy, corporate site on a cold, wet Norfolk day in early February. The large room was cavernous and approximated my vision of a secure control center, with busy people at consoles in a pit facing three massive screens at the front, and a raised deck to their rear, housing an operations control center. I thought of the 1983 film, War Games, and, in a sense, that was an appropriate parallel as I was attending a tabletop exercise, “Pacific Trident III,” created and run by Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA), a think tank based in Washington D.C.
The exercise itself – the set-up – was actually quite interesting for a mid-career East Asia analyst like myself. It was not the usual North Korea crisis or Taiwan-China crisis, but rather a realistic combination of two different scenarios. The starting point was for the China team to 1) expand Chinese influence and authority in East Asia and 2) drive wedges between the United States and its allies. The China team began the game by persuading the North Koreans to “initiate” a minor but ambiguous provocation – a small special operations ground attack on a U.S. base in the South – while China simultaneously landed “humanitarian aid workers” on a Taiwanese-administered island in the South China Sea in the wake of a typhoon.
It was a clever and interesting set-up that confounded the United States and allied players in the initial stages of the game in two fundamental ways. First, it utilized two different crises at the same time, challenging the United States and allied players as to which was the “real” crisis, or which merited prioritization. Second, both crises involved actors using gray zones tactics (operations other than war) to achieve their objectives. In many ways, the fact that there were two gray zone operations at the same time showed the alliance system’s strengths and exposed some of its weaknesses.
The state of the Canada-China relationship is a bellwether for the new international relations. It is – to Ottawa’s consternation – increasingly an age of power politics, rather than an age of rules and order. As the Globe and Mail has lamented, “Canada simply doesn’t have the weight to compel China to stick to terms, as was demonstrated in the wake of Ms. Meng’s arrest.”
The world today is changing and the international stage is facing a dramatic shift as key states, like China and Russia, are substituting accepted standards and norms of the liberal rules-based order for a different, older form of international relations: one in which power is the standard by how things are judged.
China is a clear example of this, brandishing its military power for fait accomplistrategies in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Beijing has similarly attempted to leverage its growing economic power for attraction and coercion, and discourse power to spin events as the powerful wish. Its increased influence over UN bodies – such as the World Health Organization over the COVID-19 crisis – has been only the most recent example of this newfound sharp power.
For Canada, the rude awakening into this new age began with the arrest of Chinese national Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 and Beijing’s revenge-detention of two Canadian nationals in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The event placed Canada squarely between its ally, the US – the current hegemon – and China, a brash new contender eager to take offence at any lack of respect shown to its new status. Face is everything. Rules are nothing, mere Western tokens – intended to keep Beijing from taking its rightful place at the head of nations. Or so Chinese narrative would have us believe.
For Canada, it is not the first time it has been squeezed between great powers. Prior to the 1950s, Canadian foreign policy consisted of balancing between its powerful southern neighbor and the British Empire, to which it is still aligned. Despite this, it was able to carefully balance between the two powers – a happenchance of history as well as shared legal norms. As a result of this and its status as an archetypal middle power, Canada has long championed a certain type of international relations, and its diplomats have fought to promote liberal values and norms as well as human rights as a way of protecting the weak from the strong.
The 1970s saw an increasingly confident liberal tradition as Ottawa increased its diplomatic footprint in various overseas missions and multilateral institutions. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau increased the number of Canadian peacekeeping missions around the globe in an effort to support the United Nations. At the same time, Canada became one of the first Western countries to officially recognize China in late 1970.
It its quest to balance the massively asymmetrical relationship with its powerful southern neighbor, Ottawa also began to seek trade diversity, since a full 75 percent of Canadian exports were destined for the US. The 2008 recession reinforced this desire to diversify from trade within NAFTA, and with China a rising trading superpower, the primary choice of diversification seemed obvious. The resulting slew of trade dealsbetween Canada and China included 15 Memorandums of Understanding signed by various departments in the Canadian and Chinese governments between 2008 and 2012, the Canada-China Investment Treaty in 2013, and the signing of an MOU on charter flight cooperation in 2015, among others.
Political ties under Prime Minister Harper grew following a 2009 visit to Beijing, in which he oversaw the Canada-China Joint Statement that laid out specific efforts to expand trade and investment. Only one year later, President Hu Jintao visited Canada to cement these ties and encourage further deals. As a result of these machinations, China has quickly risen to become Canada’s second largest trading partner after the United States (the EU is third). China imports roughly $17.5 billion worth of goods, a significant amount despite declining by 17.7 percent due to last year’s events.
While the bilateral relationship had previously weathered the storms of cyber espionage and trade access, the crisis begun with Meng’s detention has of course brought all this progress into the spotlight, and Beijing seems willing to use the economic relationship to coerce Canada into releasing her. While Canadian foreign policy-makers have directed some anger towards the Trump administration , there is also consternation not only about Beijing’s heavy-handed response – but the deeper implications of what it means for state-on-state behavior. China’s arbitrary detention of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in an act of hostage diplomacy, was unexpected though perhaps not unprecedented. After all, these are not the first Canadian citizens to have been arbitrarily detained by China.
The realization inside Ottawa that this behavior could represent a new type of great power behavior – one in which the rule of law as established after the Second World War is replaced with punitive extra-legal measures. If authoritarian powers are able to detain the foreign travelers for hostage diplomacy, what are the implications for middle powers? Will they have the ability to defend their interest in such an order, or is their role merely to submit to the face-saving antics of the powerful?
Prime Minister Trudeau will also be asking himself some broader questions. Will the Western Alliance respond to these new tactics, and how can Canada lead that discussion? Can Canada use its deep diplomatic reach inside NATO, the EU, and other international agencies to drive the response to great power politics? These are the questions and challenges that are arising in the light of a new global dynamic.
Canada has come to a major fork in the road: one in which it can continue to construct, defend, and project liberal internationalist norms in its foreign policy, another where it can become the pragmatic trading power, utilizing its strong ethnic connections to China to revitalize its economy, or a third, where it can frame Chinese and Russian behavior as unacceptable and mount a defence from within the West. This latter will require Canada to balance authoritarian states alongside the US, something that will requiring finessing.
It is clear that a new age of power politics has dawned on the global scene: it is not yet clear how Canada will respond to this new capricious form of politicking, meekly and submissively, or with a stronger sense of the right of its norms and standards. There are signs that the latter approach may be winning for now. Ottawa has sought the support of allies such as the UK, France, Germany, the US, and various NGOs to speak out against China and to advocate for the release of Spavor and Kovrig.
Perhaps a collective diplomacy is the way forward for middle powers, one which confuses and penalizes Beijing’s bullying tactics. If Ottawa were to get a collective form of censure from a group of like-minded states, it might begin to shift China’s high-handed approach to international diplomacy. However, only time will tell.
“The sudden decision by North Korea to remove its officials from the liaison office is no doubt aimed at the Moon Jae-in administration, which is keen to push peace talks forward,” John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News. “It’s really a less-than-subtle attempt to split Washington and Seoul over the added sanctions.”
Dr John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre and deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society, a Britain-based think tank, said at the same event in Washington that Britain was considering formalising a policy of sharing intelligence with Japan.
He said about US$124 billion worth of trade – 12 per cent of Britain’s total – went through the South China Sea each year, “quite a significant amount of our revenue, so we would be concerned about anyone – China or whichever regional country – trying to control that waterway”.
“[Britain] will not lead, but certainly it will follow and will join and become a responsible partner of the community of the states that are interested in an Indo-Pacific concept,” Hemmings added.
The Netherlands said in October that it would send a warship to join British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its first operation deployment in Indo-Pacific waters in 2021.
“We’ll see more of that,” Hemmings said, adding that Britain, Canada, Australia and various European countries would be “banding together and operating in groups like this”.
No doubt those North Korea experts who predicted that the Hanoi Summit would fail, have found cold comfort in the news over the past two weeks. The apparent collapse of the summit seemed to come partly as a result of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unwillingness to put more of North Korea’s programme on the table. Failure also stemmed partly from the Trump administration’s apparent walk-back from the step-by-step approach. There are really two questions that have arisen from Hanoi’s failure: “what went wrong?” and “what next?” In attempting to answer the latter question, one must ask whether we will return to the tense period that marked the early part of the Trump administration, with North Korea and the United States shadow-boxing over U.S. attempts to impose an effective economic blockade.
Already, we are beginning to see emerging (or re-emerging) signs of that more familiar relationship dynamic, with the North Koreans apparently restoring facilities at a long-range rocket launch site it had dismantled last year. The revelation—acquired on March 2 from commercial satellite imagery—was discussed in a recent event at Center for Strategic and International Studies, where Victor Cha and Joseph Bermudez showed how the rail mounted transfer structure and vertical test engine stands at Sohae launch facility had been restored over a matter of days. Given that the site had been dormant since August 2018, it has been suggested by many North Korea experts that we are due a return to the provocation cycle that has characterized North Korean tactics for so long.
When one looks at the U.S. position, one can also see signs that the United States is returning to a hardline posture. For instance, take Trump’s allegations that North Korea wanted sanctions lifted in their entirety and his statement at the press conference immediately after Hanoi. There are also those who point to the recent shift in the Trump administration’s negotiating strategy from a step-by-step approach to a “go big” approach. Special Representative Steve Biegun’s shift in this direction is likely to doom future progress by making the choice between unilateral disarmament and doubling down on the nuclear weapons strategy. A third—and as of yet, unstated, question—is can the United States persuade regional partners and allies to re-exert “Maximum Pressure” after the long interval? This question takes on even more salience when one considers how far things have drifted between South Korea and its traditional partners, Japan and the United States.
In a report co-authored by Henry Jackson Society and others last year, an expert panel predicted three future scenarios; a best-case scenario, a middle-of-the-road, and a worst-case scenario. This last scenario saw a breakdown of negotiations, followed by a breakdown in regional support for the U.S. “maximum pressure.” We see signs of this third scenario emerging.
One hopes the administration will approach this new stage with great care and diplomatic acumen.
Report authors James Rogers and Dr John Hemmings, said: “In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to revise the Law of the Sea by asserting a number of unlawful and excessive claims over various international waters and low-tide elevations.
This is important because the UK, a maritime trading power, relies on maritime communication lines, which in turn depend on the cohesion of the rules-based international system.
“Maintaining a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Pacific – not least the South China Sea – comes at a cost.”
Analysis of top regional issues from the research team at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Please note that the views expressed on this blog do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.