TIME Hong Kong

‘Racist’ Insurance Commercial Draws Outrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's Domestic Help System Under Scrutiny Following Recent Cases Of Abuse
Indonesian domestic workers protest in the streets of Causeway Bay to demand better working conditions in Hong Kong on Jan. 26, 2014 Jessica Hromas—Getty Images

An insurance commercial in Hong Kong has been deemed as racist by advocates of domestic workers and prompted outrage on social media

An insurance commercial in Hong Kong that features a male Chinese actor who impersonates a clumsy Filipina maid has been deemed as racist by domestic-worker advocates and prompted outrage on social media — reminding many Hong Kong residents of the unfair treatment of foreign domestic workers.

The advertisement for domestic-helper insurance by Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank shows the Chinese actor as “Maria” while wearing a curly wig and covered in dark orange makeup. Foreign maids who are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have become a common fixture in Hong Kong since the booming of the economy in the mid-1970s.

Along with the immigration of more than 300,000 domestic workers to Hong Kong have come horror stories of their unjust treatment by employers. Recent high-profile cases like the hospitalization of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian maid who was allegedly beaten by her employer for eight months, have brought to light the abuse of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong and prompted many of them to speak up. During the One Billion Rising event in February, a global campaign to end the abuse of women, hundreds of domestic workers there joined together to demand fairer treatment.

Erwiana’s employer, Law Wan-tung, is currently on trial and has pleaded not guilty to charges of withholding payment, criminal intimidation and causing bodily harm.

An Amnesty International report in 2013 stated that Indonesian women trafficked as domestic workers face “slavery-like conditions” in Hong Kong and that both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments turn a blind eye to the “widespread abuse and exploitation” that foreign workers endure.

The controversial commercial comes only a few weeks after pictures from textbooks that feature racial stereotypes went viral on social media in Hong Kong. One exercise in the book invited students to match job descriptions with nationalities, prompting children to associate domestic work with a seemingly Filipina figure.

Advocates for domestic workers say the recent outpourings of racial discrimination are only a fragment of the mistreatment that domestic workers have experienced for years. Eni Lestari, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, told AFP the commercial lampooned an entire community by dressing the Chinese actor up in blackface instead of hiring an Indonesian or Filipina woman to play the role. Although it was supposed to be funny to Chinese residents, Lestari added, “what they don’t realize is what’s funny is actually racist.”


TIME The Philippines

One of the U.S.’s ‘Most Wanted’ Terrorists Is Arrested in the Philippines

Officials in Manila have nabbed a top commander of the Islamic extremist outfit Abu Sayyaf


One of the U.S.’s most wanted terrorists, Khair Mundos, was brought into custody by Philippine authorities on Wednesday morning, after he was arrested in a slum near the capital’s international airport.

Mundos is a key figure in the Philippines-based terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, believed to have been responsible for a spate of lethal attacks on U.S. troops and Filipinos since forming near the city of Zamboanga in the early 1990s. His capture brings an end to a seven-year manhunt.

After fleeing prison in February 2007, Mundos worked as a “fundraiser, bomb maker, and instructor” for Abu Sayyaf. One of his roles was arranging receipt funds for his group from al-Qaeda.

“Mundos confessed to having arranged the transfer of funds from al-Qaeda to Abu Sayyaf group leader Khadaffy Janjalani to be used in bombings and other criminal acts throughout the [Philippine] island of Mindanao,” said a U.S. State Department statement.

In 2009, the State Department offered half a million dollars for information leading to his arrest. Mundos also became the Philippine government’s most sought-after terrorist, and was accused of having ties to the leader of the region’s most feared militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.


Obama in the Philippines: ‘Our Goal Is Not to Contain China’

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a bilateral press conference with the Philippines President Benigo Aquino at Malacanang Palace in Manila on April 28, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a bilateral press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino at Malacañang Palace in Manila on April 28, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement took eight months to negotiate but mere days to anger Beijing, which sees U.S. involvement in East Asia as interference despite President Obama's insistence the goal is not to "contain" China

This is not about China. That has been the theme of Barack Obama’s four-nation trip to East Asia. Yet China loomed large over stops in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. And in the Philippines today, China was front and center.

On Monday morning, local time, the U.S. and the Philippines signed a 10-year pact that will give U.S. planes, warships and troops more access to the archipelagic nation. The U.S. will not re-establish a permanent base, but will rotate troops through. The deal, officially called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, took eight months of negotiation, and gives some substance to the Obama Administration’s “pivot” to Asia.

At a joint press conference in Manila, President Obama insisted the deal was not about thwarting China’s rise. “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of international disputes,” he said.

His counterpart, President Benigno S. Aquino III, said the agreement was about deepening U.S.-Philippine ties and would promote “regional peace and security.”

China begs to differ. Locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Japan and others, Beijing sees U.S. involvement in East Asia as unwelcome interference. In an editorial published less than an hour after the agreement was officially signed, state-backed newswire Xinhua blasted the pact, calling the Philippines a “troublemaker in the South China Sea” and warning the U.S. that its plans may backfire.

Given that the Philippines is at a bitter territorial row with China, the move is particularly disturbing as it may embolden Manila in dealing with Beijing,” it read.

The agreement is no less contentious within the Philippines. The country has a long and complicated history with the U.S., particularly the U.S. armed forces. The Philippines spent 300 years as a Spanish colony before being “liberated” by the U.S. in 1898. What followed was a brutal Philippine-American War and the U.S. colonization of the islands. When the Philippines became independent in 1945, the Americans left behind massive military bases — and with them a well-documented legacy of rights abuses and environmental problems.

More than a decade of antimilitary activism led to the closure, in 1992, of U.S. bases. But the Americans never fully withdrew. U.S. forces have maintained a small but continuous presence, conducting training exercises and, since 2002, antiterrorist operations as part of the so-called global war on terror. For a dedicated block of activists, the fact that the U.S. military still has boots on the ground is tantamount to neocolonialism. Some staged protests outside the U.S. embassy in Manila last week.

“I think people are angry that this was negotiated behind close doors and made public after it was signed,” says Alex Magno, former professor of political of science at the University of the Philippines, now a political commenter for the Philippine Star. “It is being sold to the public as an enhancement of our national defense [but] Obama tries to tone down that expectation by saying that it is not America’s role to counter China.”

The deal is also under fire from Filipino politicians who see it as a hasty and counterproductive turnaround. In an email reply to questions from TIME, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago blasted the government for signing the pact without input from the Senate and questioned the logic behind the agreement. “The U.S. should not continue to treat [the Philippines] as a satellite state, while aiming to remain on good terms with China,” she wrote. “America cannot have it both ways.”

Since his election in 2010, President Aquino has alternated between reassuring and castigating Beijing. In a 2012 interview, Aquino told TIME that U.S. military aid “helps us address our needs without giving [our neighbors] any sense of added nervousness.” (One of the unnamed neighbors, of course, was China.) He has since become more direct: in a February interview with the New York Times, Aquino compared his country’s plight with the West’s failure to protect Czechoslovakia in 1938 when Hitler demanded land. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough?'” he asked.

At the press conference in Manila on Monday, Aquino once again spoke softly, noting, among other things, that his country does not have a single fighter jet. But he said it with President Obama at his side — a fact that will not be lost on Beijing.

TIME Barack Obama

Better Late Than Never: Obama Plans Asia Trip After No-Show

Obama's twice-canceled Asia visit finally happens in April Leslie E. Kossoff—Pool/Getty Images

But he does so at a time when the 'Asia pivot' seems to have lost some of its punch

After cancelling a trip to Asia last October because of the American government shutdown, U.S. President Barack Obama has scheduled a make-up tour in April with stops in Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Obama, who once declared himself the U.S.’ first “Pacific President,” will be visiting a part of Asia that illustrates both the economic excitement and geopolitical risk of the world’s most populous continent. Although the tastes of Asian consumers increasingly influence global economics, security tensions between some of the region’s biggest powers have pundits wondering whether military clashes between some of the world’s biggest economies could break out. Defense spending is escalating across much of the continent.

The four nations Obama is visiting are all embroiled in territorial disagreements — some with China, some with each other. These disputes in the East and South China seas have festered for decades but nationalist rhetoric across Asia’s eastern flank has sharpened the potential for armed conflict, even as regional economic interdependence grows.

In late 2011, the Obama Administration declared intentions to “pivot” to Asia, a policy shift designed to wean American foreign policy from its preoccupation with the Middle East and Afghanistan. The U.S. military plans to increase its Asia-Pacific presence, even at a time when overall defense spending is being slashed. Obama is also pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to bind a dozen nations together through free trade. Japan’s negotiations to enter the trade pact will surely be a major point of discussion during Obama’s time in Tokyo, especially since political support from Obama’s Democratic Party for his free trade effort appears to be slumping.

The Obama Administration once criticized former U.S. President George W. Bush’s government for undervaluing Asia and not sending high-wattage enough representation to regional meetings. Yet Obama has twice canceled planned Asia visits, once six months ago and another time in 2010. Both postponements came courtesy of domestic politics.

Now, with even the TPP taking blows in Washington, has the Asia pivot lost its punch? Indeed, since its much-heralded debut, the pivot has been rebranded as a rather less vigorous “rebalancing.” Other Administration officials have referred to a gauzy notion of a “Pacific Dream.” Last year while in Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry directly linked this Horatio Alger phraseology to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s own “China Dream,” a fuzzy concept that appears to combine national pride with individual accomplishment. Kerry’s pointed dream analysis wasn’t lost on Beijing, which sees the pivot — or whatever it’s called these days — as an American effort to contain an ascendant China. Even the TPP, which looks unlikely to encompass the Chinese economy, is seen as carrying the whiff of a U.S. power play.

Kerry is again visiting the region this week in what can loosely be considered an advance tour for Obama’s April trip. The U.S. Secretary of State’s first stop on Feb. 13 is South Korea, then China the day after. In both places he will doubtless discuss the foreign-policy conundrum that is North Korea, as well as the icy relations both countries share with erstwhile wartime occupier Japan. Kerry next heads to Indonesia, where he will discuss climate change in a sprawling island nation particularly susceptible to environmental shifts.

On his visit to Japan last April, Kerry noted that “our Pacific Dream is to translate our strongest values into an unprecedented security, economic, and social cooperation.” He listed “our network of alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand.” Shortly before Kerry began his latest Asia trip, a State Department official cautioned against “provocative actions” by China in relation to regional maritime quarrels. The tone was admonishing. Analysts in Beijing wondered if U.S. ally Japan, which has itself sounded the nationalist bell in territorial spats, was somehow being let off the hook by Washington. If nothing else, it’s worth noting that one Asian power — in fact the Asian power of the early 21st century — won’t be part of Obama’s April Asia tour. That would be China.


The Philippines Is Still Paying the Price for That Supertyphoon

An aerial shot shows clouds above Manila on December 23, 2013. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images

Supertyphoon Haiyan Hampers Philippine Growth

Outpacing most other Asian economies in the first nine months of 2013, Philippine growth was hampered in the year’s last quarter by the devastating effect of Supertyphoon Haiyan, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and disrupted the livelihoods of more than 4 million people.

Gross domestic product rose 6.5 percent from a year earlier, down from the 7.7 percent growth in the first half of the year, but still better than earlier estimates of between 4.1 to 6 percent.

Seen over the whole year, GDP growth still climbed to 7.2 percent, making 2013 the first time in 25 years that growth exceeded six percent two years in a row.

The World Bank predicts that Haiyan’s effect will slow Philippine growth to about 6.5 percent this year, while Manila maintains its target of 6.5 to 7.5 percent.


TIME The Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan Cuts a Path of Destruction Across the Philippines

Filipino authorities estimate that the death toll from Supertyphoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, could reach 10,000. The storm leveled coastal cities causing massive damage as it moved across the country on Friday

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