The Chinese embassy in Manila says the Philippines has not been blacklisted as a tourism destination by China. The statement was made late on Tuesday and followed comments by a top official from the Philippines that the Chinese ambassador to the country had told a group of local senators that China had blacklisted the Southeast Asia nation.
“The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation”, the Chinese embassy said in a statement sent to the Philippine media. Such announcement was not available on the English-language version of the embassy’s website as of early morning on Wednesday.
The information supplied to local media said: “China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism”.
A previous statement on Tuesday from the embassy posted on its website, on the topic of “POGO-related issues”– a reference to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators –, had expressed concern about Philippine-based POGOs targeting Chinese customers. But that statement did not clarify whether the Philippines had been blacklisted by China.
That particular statement however had noted that, “according to Chinese law and regulations, Chinese citizens gambling overseas, opening casinos to attract Chinese citizens as primary customers constitute gambling crimes.”
The document added that, in such situations, “criminal liability can be pursued in accordance with the provisions of the criminal law of China”.
The “Chinese government and law enforcement have been taking tough measures to combat all forms of gambling”, added the statement from earlier on Tuesday.
China has – since at least 2020 – been speaking of blacklisting places that seek to target its residents to participate in either land-based or online gambling, and has been expressing concern about POGOs even before then.
It was the president of the Philippine Senate, Juan Miguel Zubiri, who had said during the course of Tuesday that China had placed the Philippines on its tourism blacklist. His comments were made during a Senate inquiry into POGO-related matters.
“Ambassador Huang [Xilian] said that the Philippines now is part of a blacklist of tourist sites because they [the Chinese authorities] do not know if the tourists going there will be joining POGO operations,” Mr Zubiri said. He was making reference to information he said had been conveyed by the Chinese ambassador to him and two other senators during a Manila meeting on Monday.
Late on Tuesday, Mr Zubiri said in a post on social media that Ambassador Huang’s comments “maybe” had been “lost in translation”.
“Maybe it was lost in translation and what the good ambassador meant was we could be possibly blacklisted as he mentioned they do that to countries who promote gambling for their countrymen,” the president of the Philippine Senate said.
He further stated: “The word ‘blacklist’ came from the good ambassador and not from the senators, so truly there is a strong possibility that we are either already in the list or could be added on that list if POGOs continue to proliferate in our country.”
Mr Zubiri said the Senate respected the latest statement from the Chinese embassy in Manila as one of careful diplomacy as the Chinese side did not want to raise “any diplomatic alarm bells.” But he added that the message from Ambassador Huang “was loud and clear”: “POGOs are totally illegal in China, and those promoting it will be arrested”; and if these activities continue to be allowed in the Philippines, it “could affect” the country’s tourism industry, as the Philippines would face blacklisting by China.
Opposition to POGOs
Regarding POGOs specifically, China has, since at least 2019, been expressing concern that a number of them might be targeting Chinese customers, and enticing them to engage in what China regards domestically as criminal activity.
In the Tuesday statement available on its website, the Chinese ambassy in Manila said that “most of the recent crimes targeted at Chinese citizens in the Philippines are related to POGOs”.
It added: “The Chinese embassy has been in close communication with the Philippine law enforcement agencies and stepped up cooperation on cracking down POGO-related criminal activities against Chinese citizens in the Philippines.”
The document further noted: “It is appreciated that relevant Philippine law enforcement agencies rescued a number of Chinese citizens and shut down some POGO companies during their operations.”
In the comments posted online, the embassy also mentioned the meeting between Ambassador Huang and Mr Zubiri. “Ambassador Huang reiterated China’s policy on and firm opposition to POGO,” the statement said.
It added: “Crimes induced by and associated with POGO not only harm China’s interests and China-Philippines relations, but also hurt the interests of the Philippines.
“It is therefore widely believed that social costs of POGO far outweigh its economic benefits to the Philippines in the long run and POGO should be tackled from the root so as to address the social ills in a sweeping manner.”
The Philippine authorities say they have recently stepped up efforts to prevent illegal online gaming activities in the country. The crackdown was said to be “triggered by reports of murder, kidnapping and other crimes,” stated last month an official of the country’s Department of Justice. Many of the perpetrators – but also of the victims – of such crimes are said to be Chinese nationals, according to media reports.
In late September, about 40,000 Chinese nationals that were employed by POGOs had their job permits cancelled, as part of the crackdown on illegal online gaming activities by the Philippines authorities.
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