Taiwan Apologizes for Labor Minister’s Remarks on Indian Workers

New Delhi — Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has issued “sincere apologies” following a remark by Taiwan’s labor minister that has threatened to disrupt fast-warming ties between the island republic and India. 

In an interview with Yahoo TV last week, Hsu Ming-chun, Taiwan’s minister of labor, said that Taiwan may start recruiting migrant workers from India’s northeast region because “their skin color and eating habits are similar to ours.” She added that “most of them believe in Christianity, and [have] skills in manufacturing, construction and agriculture.” 

Critics on social media called the remarks racist.  

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Monday calling Hsu’s comments “not entirely appropriate” and expressed “sincere apologies.” 

“Taiwan will welcome any Indian worker who meets conditions for recruitment and satisfies industry demand, regardless of their ethnic background,” the ministry said in a statement. 

Amid a rapidly aging population, Taiwan has been seeking to expand its source of foreign workers beyond Southeast Asian nations. Most now come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

Taiwan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with India on February 16, laying the framework for recruiting workers from India, which has high unemployment and a fast-growing population. India overtook China last year as the world’s most populous country with more than 1.4 billion people.   

The details of the implementation of the MOU have yet to be worked out, but Bloomberg reported in November it could involve hiring as many as 100,000 Indian workers for industry, agriculture and health care on the self-ruled island. Taiwan has denied that it expects to hire that many workers. 

China has been publicly silent on the agreement but could be irked by any bilateral agreement involving Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province that must one day reunite with mainland China, by force if necessary.   

India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to the labor minister’s comments or the ministry’s apology. But there was some domestic backlash from India’s business sector. 

“The Taiwanese minister’s statement is racist in nature, and it disrespects our Indian ethos,” said Nafisul Q. Jilani, a Delhi-based businessman who wants to do business with Taiwan. “In the wake of current geopolitical fragility, such statements are unwarranted, and they could hamper the growing bilateral relation(s) between India and Taiwan.” 

He added that “India is a diverse country and constitutionally, every Indian is an equal citizen. We believe that any opportunity should be given on candidates’ individual merit, and not based on his/her skin color, appearance or religion.” 

Namrata Hasija, a research fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told VOA these kinds of statements harm the relationship between the two governments. 

Leaders in Taiwan “should sensitize their ministers to India, and they should understand that both countries have come a long way,” said Hasija, who is also a member of the advisory committee set up by Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor to look at labor issues with India.  

“But if ministers, politicians and bureaucrats are not sensitized towards India, they don’t know India, and they don’t understand how diverse India is. Then such hiccups will keep coming in, and there will be a negative image of Taiwan here. Why give fodder to China, who are trying to dismantle the relationship?” she asked. 

Priya Purswaney, an Indian entrepreneur and interpreter based in Taipei, told VOA the Indian community there “is slightly shocked by these comments, and such comments do not represent the majority view and do not align with the government’s policy on India, which has been actively working to strengthen ties with India.” 

“The particular comment that has been criticized was not meant to be offensive to anyone,” said Purswaney. “She just had an error of judgment and has apologized for that. I hope the matter is not dragged on any further, because this agreement is definitely beneficial to both sides and marks an important milestone in India-Taiwan collaboration.”  

Purswaney noted that Hsu was full of praise for India, Indians and migrant workers from India during the TV interview, emphasizing the contribution they have made in many countries around the world.  

Like most countries, India has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and adheres to a “One China” policy as do other governments that wish to have formal relations and do business with Beijing. India was one of the first noncommunist nations to recognize the government in Beijing, but New Delhi maintained informal ties with Taipei while trade and other exchanges flourished. 

While bilateral trade between India and Taiwan is a modest $8 billion per year, compared to $136 billion between India and China, Taiwan is home to at least 5,000 Indian citizens and diaspora, considered among the best educated in the expatriate community. 

Nearly 3,000 Indian students study in Taiwan, making up the fastest-growing group of international students.  

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