Beijing has issued a new warning to Philippine online gambling operators, promising enhanced cooperation between the two nations’ police forces amid a sustained Chinese crackdown against the regional industry.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Monday said the vice minister of China’s Ministry of Public Security, Wang Xiaohong, recently held a video conference with Philippine National Police chief Guillermo Eleazar that focused on China-facing operators and Chinese kidnapping victims in the Philippines.
“The two sides reached consensus on further deepening mutual trust and cooperation, jointly cracking down on cross-border gambling, telecom and internet fraud, kidnapping, robbery, homicide and other illegal and criminal activities through regular meetings,” the embassy statement said.
The two sides will also be “further enhancing technical cooperation in drug control, counter-terrorism and law enforcement capacity building”, it said.
Although the statement covered various criminal matters, cross-border gambling was the primary concern.
Wang “pointed out that gambling not only damages the normal financial order and economic security of a country, but also causes vicious crimes such as kidnapping, illegal detention, robbery, drug trafficking and other illegal activities, which seriously endanger legitimate property and personal rights”, the statement said.
Ministry officials reiterated during the call that China “strongly opposes all forms of gambling and prohibits all Chinese nationals from participating in gambling operations, investing in gambling by Chinese entities or individuals and all Chinese nationals from gambling”.
It again called on Chinese nationals in the Philippines “not to engage in gambling activities”, including employment in the online or land-based sectors.
The Philippines remains caught in the diplomatically delicate situation of directly regulating an online gaming sector that secures most of its revenue from China-based users, despite a regulatory charter that is supposed to forbid such business, amid years of strong protests from Beijing.
It remains unclear whether Beijing’s latest complaint about Philippine gaming operations will have any impact on licensed foreign-facing operators (POGOs), beyond Manila’s tightening of licensing procedures and a new POGO tax.
A practical consensus between the two sides is more likely in cracking down on kidnappers of Chinese nationals who work for POGOs or non-licensed online operators, as well as reducing the number of Chinese victims of traditional crimes such as loan sharking.
“The two sides also expressed their concerns that there have been an increasing number of kidnapping cases against Chinese nationals recently in the Philippines,” the embassy said.
“At present, the Ministry of Public Security and the Philippine National Police are strengthening mutual cooperation in clues investigation, information sharing and case transfer, so as to strengthen joint efforts to crack down on such crimes.”
In a separate Chinese-language statement on Tuesday, the embassy said the two sides will establish a hotline to facilitate liaison work.
China has taken a highly aggressive position on gambling crime in the Philippines since 2019, when its Manila embassy and foreign ministry attacked the Philippine government for presiding over the then highly lucrative sector, and in particular for arranging for tens of thousands of Chinese POGO employees to be relocated to a small number of hubs for better monitoring.
The coronavirus pandemic has since depleted the number of licensed online operators and corroded online revenue, but Beijing has maintained its hardline stance as part of a region-wide disruption campaign against all forms of gambling not under its domestic control.