China and Philippines at Loggerheads over Illegal Offshore Gambling

October 28, 2022
Andrew Burnett

China’s position on gambling has been causing strife yet again in south-east Asia, with reports that the Philippines may be blacklisted due to unhappiness about their offshore gambling operations.

Philippine Senate President, Juan Miguel Zubiri, claimed recently that China had placed his nation on a tourism blacklist in response to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) targeting Chinese gamblers and workers.

The background

China, under President Xi Jinping, has taken an extremely aggressive stance on all forms of gambling, meaning almost all gambling by Chinese nationals takes place elsewhere.

Macau, a special administrative region of China, is the best-known, but Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have also been set up across south-east Asia, the most notorious of which is in the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

Philippine’s POGOs have been another route for Chinese gamblers, the generally illegal operations run mainly by Chinese crime gangs, employing mostly Chinese labour, and looking to China as a massive market.

The Philippines gaming regulator, PAGCOR, has said these POGOs are acting illegally, and drug trafficking, prostitution, murder and kidnapping have led to the recent announcement of the closure of 175 online gambling companies.

With an estimated 40,000 workers said to be facing deportation back to China, the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed it was in response to “reports of murder, kidnapping and other crimes committed by Chinese nationals against fellow Chinese nationals.”

Blacklist claims and denials

This month, according to Senate President Zubiri, a meeting with Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines didn’t go terribly well.

According to Zubiri, the Chinese representative said the Philippines was on a Chinese “blacklist of tourist sites”.

“Ambassador Huang said that the Philippines now is part of a blacklist of tourist sites because they do not know if a tourist will be joining POGO operations and they don’t know if their nationals who go to the Philippines will be safe from illegal activities being done by the triad, by the syndicates operating POGOs,” said Zubiri.

He added that Huang had claimed: “They may be kidnapped, mistaken for POGO operators.”

However, the Chinese denied that such a blacklist was in operation, and the discussion only focused on more positive ways that the Chinese anti-gambling approach could be supported by the Philippines.

The row hasn’t ended there, though, as Zubiri refused to retract his earlier statement: “We’re not dreaming. What I said was the truth. We have many witnesses who heard our conversation,” he said.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines has fallen drastically since the pandemic began, and the current fallout looks unlikely to help matters.

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