The Chinese nationals were found operating a large-scale online gambling operation north of the Philippine capital. (Photo : Google)
China's Foreign Ministry on Monday expressed concern over the detention of more than a thousand Chinese nationals in the Philippines during a crackdown on online gambling, a move which could put a damper to the increasingly warm relationship between the two countries in recent months.
The Philippine immigration bureau last week arrested about 1,200 Chinese working at call center-like facilities suspected of running online gambling operations at Clark Field, a former U.S. airbase north of Manila, according to Reuters.
The arrests marked the Philippine government's biggest round-up of Chinese nationals in the country, many of which are suspected to be working there illegally.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had requested the Philippines "appropriately make arrangements" for individuals who have been detained and quickly release those who have "legal identification."
"At the same time, China expresses concern over the large number of Chinese citizens detained by the Philippines," Geng told reporters at a media briefing, adding that China always reminds its citizens travelling abroad to comply with local laws.
It remains unclear if the Chinese nationals are being detained for gambling offences or for visa and immigration violations, although around 900 were brought to the immigration detention center in Manila, according to a report from local police.
China has expressed support for the Philippines' other law enforcement efforts, including President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign, which has sparked criticism from Western countries over fears of extrajudicial killings.
In a complete reversal to the previous Philippine government's adversarial relationship with China, Duterte has made efforts to improve ties with China, which has been plagued by territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Before leaving for an Asia-Pacific in Lima, Peru earlier this month, Duterte said that should Russia and China decide to create a "new order" in the world, his administration would be the first to join.