Chinese Envoy Denies Gambling Blacklist Includes Philippines

October 12, 2022
A communication breakdown between the president of the Philippine Senate and the Chinese ambassador has exposed a possible tourism blacklisting for the Philippines over Chinese involvement in the local gambling industry.


A communication breakdown between the president of the Philippine Senate and the Chinese ambassador has exposed a possible tourism blacklisting for the Philippines over Chinese involvement in the local gambling industry.

Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday (October 10) told an ongoing Senate probe into offshore-facing online gambling operators (POGOs) that the Chinese government had placed the Philippines on a “blacklist for tourist sites”.

Zubiri’s statement was based on a conversation with Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian, whom he and two fellow senators met earlier in the day at the embassy.

The embassy has since rebutted Zubiri’s claim, issuing an English-language correction on Tuesday night to local media that described Zubiri’s comments as “misinformation”.

“China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” the embassy said. “The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation.”

The embassy’s forceful response followed a more cordial English-language statement earlier on Tuesday that spoke of a “warm and fruitful meeting” with the senators on matters such as energy, commerce and cultural exchanges.

However, the statement was dominated by Beijing’s unhappiness over ongoing POGO use of Chinese migrant workers and the presence of Chinese gamblers in the nation’s casinos, both of which “constitute gambling crimes” in China’s extra-territorial criminal code.

“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 said.

“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.”

In an initial response to the Zubiri’s “blacklist” comments, however, a paragraph of moderate tone was later tacked on to the statement on the embassy website.

“To further elucidate on the ‘tourist blacklist’ remarks, tourism is an important component of practical cooperation between China and the Philippines which has helped further deepen long-time friendship between the two peoples.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, close to two million Chinese nationals travelled to the Philippines in 2019, making China the second largest source of tourists. We expect more Chinese tourists to come to this country after the pandemic.”

Zubiri has responded to the incident with a degree of diplomacy, telling reporters on Tuesday that a translation error may have been responsible.

But he reiterated that Huang mentioned the blacklist.

“Maybe it was lost in translation and what the good ambassador meant was we could possibly be blacklisted,” he said.

“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.

“We respect the statement he made today as one of careful diplomacy as I’m sure he does not want to raise any diplomatic alarm bells when it comes to this matter.”

Unusually for the embassy, no Chinese statements corresponding to the two English releases have been uploaded, suggesting the matter is of some sensitivity or has been dealt with in a hurry.

Beijing’s blacklist for overseas gambling crimes has not been publicly released, but to date has issued three tranches of unnamed foreign tourist destinations in August 2020 and January and July last year.

The blacklist mechanism seeks to suspend tourism agency services for designated locations such as “cities” and “scenic areas”, as well as disrupting charter aircraft bound for areas with gambling services.

The Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the West Pacific Ocean that includes Saipan, is the only nation to date to declare that it has been included on the blacklist, although the Chinese government has not confirmed this.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s new government is facing strong opposition in Congress to retaining the POGO segment, amid years of criminal activity linked to registered and unregistered online operators and service providers, including kidnapping and torture.

Gambling regulator PAGCOR, which maintains POGOs provide much needed revenue for the government, continues to oppose calls for an outright ban on online gambling operations, whether offshore-facing or domestic. Some key senators are also supportive of the status quo.

But parts of the government hostile to the industry are adamant that a crackdown on illegal workers in the industry must proceed, potentially requiring the repatriation of as many as 40,000 Chinese nationals, a move that justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said last month could trigger a “humanitarian crisis” in ill-equipped detention facilities.

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