Early this week, the Chinese government expressed its concern over the Philippine government’s detention of 1,200 Chinese nationals as part of its ongoing crackdown on online gambling.

The detention could cause a serious strain in Duterte’s efforts to improve relations with his country’s massive neighbor.

The international incident began last week when Philippines’ law enforcement detained approximately 1,200 Chinese nationals during a raid on a call-center that was believed to have been connected to an online gambling operation. In an odd twist, and commentary on the current state of international relations in the Philippines, the operation was based in a building on the old Clark Air Field, a decommissioned US Air Force base.

Though none of the Chinese have been charged with any gambling offenses, most are suspected of overstaying tourist visas in order to work illegally in the country. (Online gambling is not currently illegal in the Philippines.)

In a letter to Duterte, as reported on by Reuters News Agency, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang asked the Philippine government to sort out the matter as quickly as possible. He also asked that those Chinese with proper identification be released immediately.

Shuang also said, “At the same time, China expresses concern over the large number of Chinese citizens detained by the Philippines.”

The incident comes at a time when President Duterte has expressed interest in developing closer ties with China, which would represent a major shift in Philippines foreign policy. In recent weeks, Duterte has said that he would happily join China and Russia in establishing a, “new order,” in the world.

Whether Duterte’s interest in improving relations with China will trump his desire to shut down his local online gambling industry is a question whose answer is still elusive.

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