Philippines Forced To Walk Back Claim China Blacklisted the Country Over POGOs

It now seems China hasn’t blacklisted the Philippines as previously reported by a Philippine Senator. The country isn’t happy with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), but hasn’t yet dropped the ax.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri
Philippine Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri appears in a meeting of the chamber. He recently stated that the country is on China’s tourism blacklist, a statement the Chinese embassy now says isn’t true. (Image: Philippine Senate Public Relations and Information Bureau)

Only a couple of days ago, per comments from Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, China was going to restrict its citizens from traveling to the Philippines for tourism. It doesn’t like that POGOs are targeting Chinese citizens for gambling, as well as illegally employing Chinese nationals.

It appears as though it was just a misunderstanding. The Chinese embassy in the Philippines issued a statement yesterday, denying the senator’s assertions.

POGOs Still Unwelcome

The Chinese embassy confirmed that Zubiri met with Chinese officials, including Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, to discuss the country’s approach to gambling. The goal was to reiterate China’s anti-gambling stance and request a more proactive approach from the Philippines in supporting its beliefs.

The embassy added that tourism is an “important component” of the relationship between China and the Philippines. China is particularly interested in keeping the peace between the two, as it wants to have approval to explore for oil in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Despite its claims to own the entire body of water, the Philippines has categorically rejected the claim.

In his remarks, the ambassador stopped short of implementing any official or diplomatic stance against the Philippines. As a result of the update, it’s unclear why Zibiri stated that China was going to block tourism to the country.

We stand by our statement. We have a transcript of what has transpired [during our meeting]. We’re not dreaming. What I said was the truth. We have many witnesses who heard our conversation,” said Senator Miguel Zubiri.

However, according to him, the fault lies with someone in the Chinese embassy. He issued his own follow-up to the embassy’s response, expressing his regret over its assertion that he was disseminating misinformation.

The senator says the ambassador specifically used the word “blacklist” during their meeting on Monday. He added that the problem was the ambassador’s fault, and that he said that the Philippines is now on a “blacklist of tourist sites” because of the presence of POGOs.

War of Words

At the meeting were Philippine Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Robinhood Padilla. Initially, according to Zubiri, Gatchalian was just as surprised by the ambassador’s remarks as he was. However, that statement will be another source of debate.

Gatchalian said soon after Zubiri made his initial remarks about that blacklist that it wasn’t yet in place. In comments to the press, he explained that the measure is not yet in place. He added that there is only a “possibility” that it could happen.

As the two sides try to figure out who said what to whom, other lawmakers will continue trying to figure out what to do about POGOs. The regulated market is now only a small sliver of what it was a year ago, with just a handful of licensed companies in operation.

The money they deliver to the Philippines is important for the economy, even if Zubiri downplays the amount. However, if they are going to cause a major rift between the two countries, those that remain now may not survive for long.

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