Metro Manila, Philippines— The Chinese Embassy late Tuesday denied Senate President 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.

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 told reporters.

Zubiri earlier said that the reason why the country had been witnessing a “significant drop” in Chinese tours was because of the tourists’ anxieties of “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.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.