Chinese Embassy: PH on tourist blacklist is ‘misinformation’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — The Chinese Embassy late Tuesday denied Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri’s earlier announcement that the country is on the tourist blacklist of China.

“The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement sent to reporters.

The embassy released the statement after Zubiri quoted Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian saying that the country was on a blacklist because of issues hounding Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs). 

"Because of the problem of POGO, the Philippines now is blacklisted and tourists now are discouraged to go to the Philippines," Zubiri on the same day told a Senate hearing, citing information from a meeting with the ambassador.

The Chinese Ambassador also later on clarified that the meeting with Zubiri and Senators Win Gatchalian and Robin Padilla was “warm and fruitful” and said that more Chinese tourists are still expected to visit the country.

“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,” the statement read.

Zubiri: ‘Misinformation’ wrong term to use

After the ambassador’s clarification, Zubiri told reporters that he was “just a messenger” and maintained that he only quoted the ambassador during the meeting.

“That was the message, don’t shoot the messenger. Again, it was the ambassador who said the tourism blacklist, not any one of us, as he discussed how it could affect tourism. So maybe he meant future tense and not present tense,” the Senate President said Tuesday night.

In a virtual media interview on Wednesday, he said they could have been lost in translation but added that Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Robin Padilla could also attest that the term “blacklist” came from Huang’s mouth.

“Well, the fault lies with the ambassador,” he said. “He mentioned blacklisting, so siguro nagkamali 'yung ambassador [maybe the ambassador made a mistake]...Maybe his statement was about future tense – we could be possibly blacklisted.”

While Zubiri acknowledged that they could have clarified further, he said he was “shocked” by the Chinese embassy calling his statement as misinformation. He pointed out that the embassy could have just said it was clarifying a misunderstanding instead of making it appear like he was spreading fake news.

Given these, Zubiri told reporters he sees no need to apologize to China. Conversely, he said he is also not seeking an apology.

Meanwhile, the Senate President said he will try to get a categorical statement from the ambassador if China will blacklist countries that host POGO operations.

Zubiri earlier said a reason why the country had been witnessing a "significant drop" in tourists from China is because the Chinese are uncertain if they are "safe from illegal activities being done by the triad, by the syndicates operating POGO.”

The lawmaker said Chinese tourists feared that they would be kidnapped and be “mistaken as POGO operators."

Data from the Department of Tourism showed that Chinese tourist arrivals in 2019 reached 1.74 million.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco reported that the number is down to only around 23,000 so far this year, but she said this is because “China has not yet reopened its borders to outbound leisure travel of its own nationals” due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

CNN Philippines' Kristel Limpot and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.