Taiwan labour minister apologises after racist remarks on Indian migrant workers trigger outrage

Taiwan's labour minister on Tuesday issued an apology following an uproar over her “racist” remark on the recruitment of Indian migrant workers.

The minister kicked up a row after stating in an interview that Taiwan would recruit people from India’s northeast because of their "skin colour and eating habits" being similar to the Taiwanese people.

Taiwan and India on 26 February signed a labour mobility agreement to allow the island to import Indian workers in an effort to meet its labour shortages. The island reportedly utilizes the labour of around 700,000 migrants – the majority of them from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"Furthermore, most of them believe in Christianity," Ms Hsu said during the interview earlier this month, justifying the decision to recruit workers from India's northeastern states.

While New Delhi has not engaged in any public outrage, the interview triggered a domestic backlash from members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Hsu Ming-chun said at a legislative hearing Taiwan’s labour policies were crafted with equality in mind and are never discriminating, according to FocusTaiwan.

Legislator Chen Kuan-Ting from the ruling party publicly criticised the labour minister's statement saying: "Taiwan's recruitment of migrant workers absolutely cannot be based on race or ethnicity. Period".

The furore prompted Taiwan's labour and foreign ministries to issue statements apologising to India.

“We will earnestly review and improve, and express our sincere apologies,” the labour ministry said on Monday.

Taiwan's foreign ministry issued a similar statement and an apology without naming the labour minister. "Recently, in discussions with relevant sectors in Taiwan’s society, certain government agencies have made remarks that were not entirely appropriate,” the ministry said.

Ms Hsu clarified she praised the Indian workers' abilities and performance in the interview because “she had hoped to highlight these attributes”.

She had previously denied reports of Taiwan hiring as many as 100,000 Indian migrant labourers, calling it "fake news".

The Bloomberg report triggered fury on social media, with the Taiwanese citizens expressing concern over women's safety and a possible rise in crime rate due to the influx of labourers.