China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on its website this week it had added more overseas destinations to its travel blacklist for Chinese citizens as part of its war against cross-border gambling.
The move aims to “better regulate the tourism market and safeguard the lives and property of Chinese citizens”, the ministry said.
Officials in Beijing introduced the blacklist in August last year but have so far declined to make it public. It has been speculated that likely suspects for inclusion would be the countries the Chinese most frequently visit to gamble, such as the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Is China Targeting Philippines?
Of these, the Philippines’ casino sector is by far the biggest. It has benefitted from improved relations with China in recent years, which led to a renewed influx of Chinese tourism. But more recently, the Philippines has angered the regional superpower by licensing an online gambling industry that targets Chinese citizens with impunity.
China is not averse to using the spending power of its citizens as an economic weapon, shutting off the flow of middle-class tourists to countries that have incurred its displeasure. South Korea found this to its cost after it deployed a US-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery inside its own borders in 2016.
Ostensibly, it was a response to North Korean belligerence, but it angered Beijing, which complained the deployment threatened its security.
Beijing took retaliatory action by banning Chinese companies from offering package tours to South Korea, imposing quasi-economic sanctions on the country’s tourism sector, which also hurt its foreigner-only casino industry.
It’s impossible to tell whether the Philippines’ casino sector is threatened by China’s blacklist. Foreign citizens are not currently permitted to enter the Philippines because of measures designed to control the pandemic. The country would have to first lift its travel restrictions for China to impose travel restrictions of its own.
It could be that Beijing has not disclosed the destinations on the list because it wants to choose a more impactful moment. Such sanctions are somewhat futile during a global pandemic.
Meanwhile, Bob Yeh, of the Institute for Social and Cultural Research at the Macau University of Science and Technology, told the South China Morning Post, that the blacklist was good news for Macau and could be a protective measure for its gaming industry.
“Macau’s economy relies on gambling. Although the central government wants it to diversify, it will be very difficult to change the status quo,” he said. “So this policy is beneficial for Macau,” Yeh said. If [Chinese tourists] can’t go to places in Southeast Asia, they’ll go to Macau.”
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