China has renewed warnings against illegal gambling by its citizens in Southeast Asia as it pushes for joint action with regional law enforcement agencies to crack down on the activity.
The most recent warning came last week when the Chinese embassy in Manila said that Chinese companies and individuals in the Philippines would be “punished in accordance with Chinese law” for any involvement in illegal gambling.
The embassy also urged Manila to do more to stamp out online gambling and protect Chinese citizens exploited by the industry.
Gambling is illegal in China so many Chinese nationals have set up online gambling websites offshore, particularly in Southeast Asia. But offshore illegal gambling was still punishable under Chinese law because many customers carried out the transactions in yuan, Economic Information Daily quoted Tan Qiugui, law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, as saying.
The Philippines is a big focus of China’s offshore efforts to clamp down on the practice. In April 2017, 55 people based in the Philippines were arrested in a joint crackdown by Chinese and Philippine police on cross-border illegal gambling, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Later that year, Chinese and Philippine police raided a gambling ring in Metro Manila and arrested almost 80 Chinese nationals who did not have legal immigration documents, according to Philippine media.
Associate professor Li Mingjiang, from Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Chinese police played an advisory role in the operations.
“Chinese police come to the target country, help provide intelligence and advise local police,” Li said.
China is also teaming up with Cambodian authorities to stop illegal gambling – among other offences – as Chinese nationals and investment pour into Cambodia’s southern provinces, with the two countries signing a law enforcement treaty in March to combat cross-border crimes.
“In the past two or three years, there have been numerous problems in the city [of Sihanoukville] and many Cambodians blame Chinese investors for creating the social problems,” Li said, referring to illegal gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking. “I think this was a major catalyst for this agreement.”
In a joint operation this year, 91 Chinese nationals involved in setting up illegal online gambling sites were arrested in Cambodia’s southern province of Kampot and sent back to China for prosecution.
Similar operations targeting illegal online gambling have also been mounted in Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, with varying degrees of involvement by Chinese police.
Li said that although there might be a common goal to stamp out the activity there were a number of barriers to cooperation between law enforcers in China and the rest of the region.
“Trust issues, South China Sea disputes and negative feelings towards China – all these factors negatively affect law enforcement cooperation between Southeast Asian countries and China,” he said.
“[But] the need for joint action is growing. As more and more people travel between China and these countries, crimes will grow.
“If they are not dealt with effectively, they will bring more damage and costs to China and the region.”