Tag Archives: China

An insider’s guide to Hong Kong

For most travellers, Hong Kong is the gate to Asia: it provides us with  all the advantages of  Western civilization, while presenting  brushed-up, polished  version of  the continent. However, for those of us that can not be satisfied with a view from Victoria Peak and other tourist ‘must-sees’, Pandeia has found a local to tell about the other side of Hong Kong.

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LONG BEFORE China opened its door to the West and became the trendy destination for scores of Western backpackers, Hong Kong has been embracing its fellow Western investors, travellers and the influence of Western civilization, thanks to its colonial history. While deeply influenced by Western culture, Hong Kong maintains valuable Chinese and Asian traditions in various aspects, and -as a result – creating a nicely mixed vibe and lifestyle.

From the very first moment you land in Hong Kong, you would be overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, the population density, and the countless skyscrapers crowding every part of the city.

At first glance, Hong Kong seems to be just like any other big city. However, under the veil of a hustle and bustle of world’s number one financial hub, it is not difficult to realize that the majority of HongKongese still live under the influence of traditional Chinese culture. They celebrate Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc. These festivals are all scheduled according to the Chinese lunar calendar, which does not coincide with the one used in the West. So if you want to catch a chance to experience a traditional Chinese festival, don’t forget to check the festival calendar.

You never get hungry in this city

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Chinese traditions are very largely represented in Hong Kong cuisine. The innovative fusion of Chinese and Western cooking largely defines Hong Kong cusine. You will find strange mix of Italian Bolognaise with rice; French fries that come with mushroom and cream sauce; Instant noodles with tomato soup; Indian curry with French baguette etc. There are of course a lot of restaurants specializing in particular cuisines. In Hong Kong you can find one of the best Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese and Korean restaurants with reasonable prices. There is a wide variety of European cuisines to choose from. Eating out is a culture in Hong Kong: it becomes part of life. And it does not always happen in restaurants: street food is one of the best things you shouldn’t miss. Try fried food, fishballs, frozen yogurt, and get a cup of nicely prepared bubble tea to fulfill your thirst and hunger.

The party is going on all night long

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Everyone in Hong Kong can you that Lan Kwai Fong in Central is the best place to go out in the city. It is true that you can find everything in this area: cheap bars, expensive bars, nice clubs, shitty clubs. People of ages flock to the famous “LKF” to fill the hilly alley. There are a lot of different sides of nightlife in Hong Kong though, especially if you want to get drunk, cheap. The local way to start off is to get beers and liquors from 7-11, which you can find everywhere, then go the rooftop of International Finance Centre Mall, where you can get a night view of the neon-lit city. You can then head off to the underground club, XXX Gallery in Sai Wan. The club was closed temporarily last year, but re-opened again. It is an alternative space where young artists and musicians gather. Apart from parties, it also occasionally hosts exhibitions, concerts or movie screening nights. If you are a jazz lover, check out Ned Kelly’s Last Stand on the other side of the island. The laid-back Aussie bar has survived for more than 40 years. It has live jazz performances every night, giving a cozy, friendly ambience.

The arty area

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Starting to get sick of the crowds and the all-the-same brands in the touristic area? Check out the quiet, hip area in Soho. Spend a nice afternoon strolling around Tai Ping Shan Street, Tung Street, Sai Street, all the way until Hollywood Road. The only ways to reach the area is either to take a bus and walk through the small alley, or to get off from the last station of MTR – Sheung Wan, and then to walk all the way uphill.  This remote location is probably the reason why this area is not flooded by tourists and chain fashion stores yet, and also why rent there is still affordable for independent artists. Along the tranquil small allies are independent galleries, designer boutiques and cozy cafes. Try to talk to shop and gallery owners there and you will find that it is a closely connected community. If you are lucky enough, they might invite you to the occasionally held community parties.

 

The all-connected buildings

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Architecture in Hong Kong is spectacular. The numerous commercial skyscrapers are of course the first things in the city that catches your eye. However, they tell nothing about the history and the characters of the society. Dig into the ordinary life of most HongKongese: go to the residential areas and see the social housing. Walk along the different stairs, following the swarm, and you will discover spontaneous parks and squares hiding behinds the corner that you would never pay attention to otherwise.

After going through  all these connections/ channels/tunnels/stairs, you might end up in a completely different area. Social housing tells the stories of the majority of the 7 million city dwellers. Some of them were built 30 or 40 years ago. The typical examples would be Wah Fu Estate in Pok Fu Lam or Shun Lee Estate near Kwun Tong.

Hong Kong and nature

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Despite being an international financial centre and a densely populated city, Hong Kong actually has a wide spread of astonishing nature. 40% of the city-state land belongs to the state-protected natural reserves. If you are keen on rock formation and geological features, the Hong Kong Geopark offers you educational land and boat tours in 8 different areas. Hiking in Hong Kong is also an extraordinary experience. There are lots of well-constructed hiking trails around the city: The Dragon’s Back trail and the Sha Tin Pass Road to Kowloon Reservoir are most popular among local and expat hikers. Be prepared for the heat and the sun if you are visiting in summer months, where temperature goes up to 34 – 35 degrees.

Last reminder: Get plenty of sleep before coming to Hong Kong: the city will never let you have enough.

 

Words and Pictures by Cherie Chan

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China and press freedom

Credit: Ingmar Zahorsky

LAST WEEK IN part #1 of this blog I recounted the methods of restricting internet access and the pitched battle over freedom online.

This week I want to try and give some idea of press freedom more broadly. It was good to explore beyond the general and undetailed assumption that there just must be massive restrictions. There are some lively details and interesting ripostes.

Skewing

I’ll be clear from the start that Chinese media outlets do not publish anything that the Party isn’t okay with. There is a lot of blanket copy-paste of whatever comes out of the state news agency (Xinhua) and the state television station (CCTV – no laughing, you British) – and that should tell you about the room for manoeuvre.

Foreign media have more latitude – but they face a whole different set of challenges, something I explore in depth in a later episode of this blog. But the skewing of the home coverage is obviously a lot more subtle and less blatant than stereotypical and outdated caricatures might lead you to think.

There is only so many times you can ask Chinese news organisations about censorship. You get a couple of tension-raising “no comment”s if you’re lucky, but mostly you’ll get an affable reply about it not really affecting the day-to-day work of reporters.

Verification

More than once you hear the argument that what one might regard as flagrant censorship is not so different from the process in western media outlets – where it would be editorially unethical to rush through publication of a report without verification. But there is verification of facts, and then there is verification of select facts.

Credit: Ignacio GarciaAgain here, though, some Chinese would argue that given the respectively different editorial lines of various western media outlets, the process is not too dissimilar.

If you are a Daily Mail reporter, your report has to be something that the people in charge of the Daily Mail are happy to publish. But that same report might well be unacceptable to editors at different paper – say, the Guardian – who have a different editorial outlook.

Behind

Talking through journalistic method with journalists of Chinese media outlets, however, you realise that there is a definite boundary and a definite difference in approach.

To minimise the danger of crossing the party line, you stick to attributable quotes – steer clear of inference or speculation, and make sure that your investigative journalism – insomuch as it exists in China – remains a step behind, never ahead of, investigation by the state. Then you’ll be fine.

I really am only skimming the surface here, and in the next blog entry – part #3 –  I’ll go into more detail about the landscape of the Chinese media – how those state networks operate, as well as the evolution in the business of media outlets as China has begun to open up in recent years.

Words: Sean Gibson

Top photo: Ingmar Zahorsky

Inset photo: Ignacio Garcia

Restricted internet in China

Credit: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

President Xi Jinping of China in 2012 with then-Secretary of Defense for the US, Leon Panetta

I recently visited China – Beijing and Shanghai – and I listened to what a great many people in the media, both native and foreign, had to say on the media landscape in China right now. I’m serialising this blog to deal with several key features in digestible chunks – there’s a lot to get our heads around.

One of the reasons this blog is retrospective is because it was so difficult to roam the internet in China – at least along the usual routes. There were still ways I could have filed copy without going too out of my way, but I quickly realised I needed to try and appreciate the whole thing first, not just jot down my impressions as I went along.

It’s good to start this blog with the topic of internet access, or potential lack thereof. It provides a window into how the media and communications systems work, in the broader sense, in China. I should be clear – it is now much harder to roam the internet freely in China than it used to be.

Proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs) don’t work. At least, not many of the free ones do (I’m told you can pay for VPNs that will still get you around in China – not me though).

‘Recalled’

My friend – who I might say ‘knows about these things’ – was swiftly blocked from the internet on his phone after he made preliminary research into VPNs. Then the phone went caput altogether. Curious, he took it in to a local phone shop where he was informed that the SIM card would not work because his number ‘had been recalled’. Not a bad day’s work.

One working journalist told us that several years ago they were able to conduct their work with minimal use of VPNs. Now, they need to use their paid-for VPN service every day.

China isn’t finished there either; this is only the beginning. The Chinese government’s approach to internet security is a little more stringent than, say, the UK’s occasional dalliance. China is after a little more than the laughably limited yet significantly expensive attempt in the UK to ban the popular sports streaming website First Row.

Control

A ‘central internet security and informatisation leading group’ was formed by the Chinese government this February just gone – with the president Xi Jinping sitting as chairman, supported by his number two, the government’s premier Li Keqiang. Long have we watched the evidence mount that the internet might well be an untameable beast – but nevertheless China is making a concerted effort to wield control.

There is much more to discuss here in terms of social media. But that’ll have to wait until after part #2 of this blog, where I’ll recount what we experienced in terms of broader freedom of the press in China.

Stick with us!

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Tangled trade and territory troubles

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Tisa

The “Sunflower Movement” in Taiwan started with the occupation of the national parliament (Legislative Yuan) in Taipei on 18 March. The occupation was a movement organised by local activists, the majority of whom are students, protesting against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement – a trade pack that opens up trading opportunities for service sectors between Taiwan and China. Subsequent protests were organized following the occupation, with the rally at Ketagalan Boulevard on 30 March being the most significant. The controversial agreement was signed in June 2013 but has yet to be ratified by the legislature. 

Ambiguous political status of Taiwan

Taiwan, full name being the Republic of China (ROC), has been separated from China – People’s Republic of China (PRC), since the Chinese Civil War in 1949. While China came under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Kuomingtang (KMT) fled to Taiwan and became the ruling party of the island. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed as the first opposition party, thus ending the country’s single-party political status.

Taiwan is not officially recognised as an independent sovereign state in international community. A lot of countries that have formerly established diplomatic relations with Taiwan switched recognition to China since the two parties split. There are currently only 22 countries that recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, with Vatican being the only European country among them. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France have reduced their ties with Taiwan and switched recognition to China. The island is also unrecognised by major international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation. These institutions address Taiwan as Chinese Taipei, which is defined as a province of China.

Different reasons to protest against the agreement

Relations between Taiwan and China grew tense during the presidency of Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008. Chen, who was the chairman of the DDP, supported the idea of the “Independence of Taiwan”. In his presidential speeches, he repeatedly stressed that Taiwan is an independent sovereign state and claimed that there is only one Republic of China, which is Taiwan, and he denied the political status of China. The current President Ma Ying-Jeou is on the other hand, known for advocating a closer relationship with its powerful neighbour. In 2010, President Ma signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, aiming to reduce tariffs and commercial barriers, and to achieve economic benefits for both sides. The trade pack that sparked protests and the occupation movement this time is part of the framework of ECFA.

As claimed by President Ma and some of the trade pack supporters, the pack would bring benefits to the sluggish economy of Taiwan, thus boosting growth in the service sector. In addition to an increase of investment, by establishing a closer relationship with China, Taiwan can obtain a greater participation in global economic cooperation, in order to avoid being “marginalised” by the international community.

However, scholars such as Jang Show-ling, Professor of the Department of Economics of National Taiwan University, argued that the service pack is an unequal agreement that endangers the survival of the local tertiary industry. She initiated a campaign with 17 other Taiwanese scholars protesting for a renegotiation of the pack, and prepared a 60-slide proposal of guidelines and recommendations for a fair renegotiation to be carried out. The main arguments of anti-pack scholars are that firstly, Taiwan is opening up more items than China does, which puts Taiwan in a disadvantaged position. Secondly, the pack allows Chinese investors with a large amount of capital to join the local industry and jeopardises the survival of small and medium size local enterprises.  Taiwanese entrepreneurs are also worried that the difference in business culture would be an obstacle to achieve a fair trade partnership. In a programme that discussed the pros and cons of the service pack for Taiwan produced by PTS, the public television service in Taiwan, businessmen expressed that in order to successfully build up a business in China, it is important to establish an extensive personal network and contacts (Guanxi), while laws and regulations are generally not valued and not respected.

Student activists, on the other hand, protested against the agreement for another reason. They claimed that the pack was signed without a proper consultation and they demand a transparent procedure for the rectification of the agreement. They also demand a review of the pack clause by clause. Student leaders such as Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting argued that the way the parliament ratified the agreement is an undemocratic move and an exaggeration of the presidential power.

The conspiracy theory

Another major concern about the agreement is a conspiracy theory. With Hong Kong as an example, anti-pack supporters suggest that China is using its soft-power – economic – to regain control over the de facto independent state. Protesters held banners with the phrase “We don’t want to be the next Hong Kong” during the parliament occupation and rallies.

Taiwan’s close neighbour, Hong Kong, signed the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Mainland China in 2003. Since the implementation of the agreement, China has gradually taken the position as the main trading partner of Hong Kong. In 2012, over 36 per cent of its exports were sold to China. At present, the majority of Hong Kong’s inflow of investment comes from China.

Hong Kong has gone through economic turmoil because of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and SARS in 2003, but has recovered in a remarkably fast speed due to CEPA. However, this former British colony has also seen the bad sides that come along with the agreement: an increasing dependency on China as its source of income, as well as a rising tension between local residents and “mainlanders” because of cultural differences. Seeing its neighbour becoming more and more susceptible to Chinese influence, Taiwan fears that the trade pack would initiate an easy way for Beijing to insert its control over the island, and it will be turned into the “next Hong Kong.” This, despite all the political and cultural confrontation, has to be “open” to the economic giant.

The conspiracy theory does not only come from the example of Hong Kong, but also from the terms of the trade pack that they agreed on. Under the terms of the agreement, industries such as publishing, printing, telecommunications, advertising would be open to Chinese investment. The CCP can easily spread its propaganda by encouraging state-owned enterprises to invest in Taiwanese businesses.

More than an economic deal

Signing trade agreements and opening up the economy for foreign investment is always a give-and-take decision. In order to minimise influences on local businesses, the Taiwanese government can provide incentives and subsidies for small and medium sized enterprises. However, since Taiwan and China have been historically engaged in a controversial and ambiguous relationship, the trade pack means more than pure economic cooperation. It entails diplomatic implications. Also, putting aside Beijing’s intention, that the Ma’s government rushed and pushed the agreement through the plenary session in parliament without going through appropriate legal procedures is a violation of democracy. This is the biggest motivation that draws the Taiwanese public to take to the streets.

By Chan Cheuk Yin

 

 

Taiwanese Students Take to the Streets: ‘Everything Is A Black Box’

Taiwan protest, 2006

Taiwan protest, 2006

TAIWANESE students have flocked to the streets to protest a recently passed trade agreement. 

While Chinese President, Xi Jinping, faced little resistance at home or abroad over a trade agreement with Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou found himself unable to ignore the Taiwanese students. For the first time in a long time, they are voicing their anger and dissatisfaction with the government through massive demonstrations. On a weekend afternoon that would normally see Taipei residents stare at assorted cute paper pandas on Liberty Square (as some still did), the real action was happening just a block away. In the centre of the city, a large group of students continued an unprecedented occupation of the national parliament which had been going on for more than two weeks.

Friday evening, when young people usually fill neon-lit shopping streets, the stores appeared empty as young people flooded the streets surrounding the parliament for the eleventh day in a row, that prolonged a sit-in that has effectively deterred police from entering and clearing the parliament. As various professors from Taipei universities were lecturing in the streets, flood lights illuminated streamers and banners suspended from the broken windows and doors through which protesters entered parliament and supplied the protesters. No end to the siege was in sight. Sunday marked a milestone in the protest when at least a hundred thousand Taiwanese, more according to other sources, filled the avenues around the presidential office in a mass demonstration nothing short of spectacular.

“Revoke the treaty! Safeguard democracy! Scrutinise legislation! Oppose the black box!” the protesters chanted as they carried the symbol of the Sunflower Movement. Outside of Taiwan, there is still considerable confusion as to what this movement is about.

Proximity of China and Taiwan

Proximity of China and Taiwan

A special situation

Many foreign publications have dryly remarked that China quite openly aspires to appropriate the island state that itself and until very recently claimed to ‘own’ China. This fact alone should make any agreement with China problematic. The first significant trade deal in 2010 famously sparked a physical fight in parliament in which at least one legislator was hit with a clock and transported to a local hospital.

Some people in Taiwan, as well as some abroad, see any rapprochement between the countries leading to unification, such as Xunyu, 25, who has been helping out as staff at the protest for almost two weeks now: “We are Taiwanese, not Chinese. I would always oppose an agreement.”

However, Xunyu represents only a minority. The focus on China and Taiwan’s relations hides the fact that, in reality (predominantly for domestic reasons) these protests have spun out of control, and authorities have been very hesitant to react and use force. A poll by Taiwanese magazine Business Weekly shows more than 50 per cent of respondents are against the treaty. In fact, most people are not simply opposed to trade agreements with China, they are opposed to what they call the ‘black box’, or the opaqueness of Taiwanese politics and the undemocratic way the Nationalist Party (KMT) decided to ratify the treaty in “less than 30 seconds”, as the protesters claim.

Taiwan Parliament 2 ‘Everything is a black box’

  For Xiaoyun, 19, this is her first protest. She is camping in the open air against the barbed wire of the barricades with her    boyfriend  Youwei, also 19, who is doing homework as required by the protests’ leaders so students do not get behind on their  education. Like  many, Xiaoyun still lives with her parents, who now discuss politics at home and support her. “Everything is a  black box,” she says.  “Yes, I fear China, but I am actually really worried about the way this has been pushed through.”

At the beginning of the process, ruling party KMT promised to review every clause of the agreement in cooperation with the  opposition Democratic People’s Party (DPP). When instead the KMT decided to promptly withdraw from the talks and pass the  agreement in a hurried vote, many people felt betrayed. “The government never explained anything well to the people and has  only insisted on the good points,” says Ziyan, 25, who works at the smartphone producer HTC. Her colleague Cheying, 25, thinks  that she would “surely benefit from the treaty,” but that this not the point. “What we want is procedural democracy,” she says. “I want them to protect small business and vulnerable people better,” adds Ziyan.

The protesters demands include: special regulations for the ratification of future treaties, that the treaty will be revoked and modified to better protect vulnerable people and industries, and lastly constitutional reform.

This last complaint is especially sensitive in Taiwanese society, as President Ma Ying-jeou appears to be acting on China’s behalf, which is perceived as a service to  the enemy power. His approval rating has been extremely low for a long time, and ‘Ma 9%’, as the nickname goes, is speculated to be targeting history books rather than news reports in desperate search of accomplishment. The president is an important political force in Taiwan, and many blame him personally for not explaining the treaty, showing instead a defensive attitude that leaves little hope for a compromise.

More than a student movement

Originally a radical student movement for Taiwanese measures has evolved into protesters breaking into the parliament and turning it upside down. They have garnered support from diverse sections of society, in a country still heavily influenced by Confucian deference and not accustomed to violence. Most of them admit that at least one parent actively supports their cause. Tsang-chiang, DPP councillor on Kinmen Island, less than two kilometres off the Chinese coast, has flown in with his two children just to join the protest. Many appear to understand that the issues at hand matter especially to the young, who are concerned about becoming part of China one day.

Taiwan protests 2Currently, Taiwanese students graduate into the labour market of an ageing society where low economic growth has meant stagnating wages, while prices have increased and housing property is increasingly hard to obtain for newcomers. While promising much-needed economic growth, the current agreement threatens to make property values jump, as mainland Chinese would be able to buy apartments in Taiwan. According to many observers this would help investment banks and real estate sectors, while exposing vulnerable industries to Chinese competition and influence. Many Taiwanese fear that their country, which has excellent, though hard to finance collective health insurance and other social policies, will become a more unequal society.

Politics at play

The case of the Taiwanese trade agreement is a classic example of far reaching policies that are negotiated in the twilight zone of international diplomacy rather than in the arena of national politics. Taiwanese citizens feel vulnerable in negotiating an agreement with an economic giant like China without any backup of a larger trade block, such as the EU or ASEAN.

The Taiwanese black box may not be opened any time soon, but protesters like Alice are not easily discouraged in their newly found political engagement: “I don’t think our government is afraid of anything any more. They know this is just a very temporary outburst of people. But even though I know things might not change, I still want to stand up.”

By Shir Bashi, Sofia Lotto Persio

Pictures: Paul Chang (Anti-Chen protest), Planet Observer (China and Taiwan satellite image), Jimmy Tseng (Protesters scaling parliament), Y.J. Wang (Female protesters with banners).

The Capitalist and The Slave: Inequality in Hong Kong

Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong have been working under inhumane and abusive conditions for decades; Cheuk Yin Chan takes a closer look at the stem of this inequality.

Violence against foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong is not a new issue, but the photos that have surfaced showing Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s body covered in wounds caused by chronic physical abuse by her employer has given a face to the problem, both in Hong Kong and internationally.

The story was not only widely covered by local media, but also by international media like Time Magazine. The Hong Kong government has now finally been forced to respond to the unjust and unfair labour system, in order to maintain its image of being a democratic and civilized international city.

23-year-old Erwiana arrived in Hong Kong last year. Like all other 300,000 foreign domestic workers who are currently working there, she came with the goal of earning enough money to support her family back home in Indonesia.

She suffered serious physical abuse during her eight-month employment period as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. She had to work 21 hours a day and was only given two pieces of bread and a bowl of rice every day. Her employer – a middle-aged women and mother of two – beat her and kicked her every day, causing more than 20 wounds and bruises on her eyes, face, mouth and body.

Erwiana is not the only victim. There are many other cases where foreign domestic workers get physically and sexually abused. They are also easily exploited, working extremely long hours, since they are forced to live with the employer according to the current labour regulations.

A Structural Change in Hong Kong’s Labour Market

Hong Kong started importing domestic workers in the late 1970s when a structural change to the economy occurred. Factories began to move to mainland China, so Hong Kong refashioned itself as a financial centre and transformed into a tertiary industry. As a result, well-educated female labour had to be mobilized to cater for the demand of the new labour market.

The minimum wage is lower than the minimum wage applicable to Hong Kong citizens, and there is no regulation of foreign workers’ actual working hours.

Simultaneously, the Philippines was devastated by poor economic performance, and therefore many (mainly women) were imported as domestic helpers at a low cost to take up positions as live-in maids. As the demand for these domestic workers increased in Hong Kong, more workers were also imported from Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.

These foreign domestic workers usually come to Hong Kong with a high-level of education from their home countries. They choose to leave their home country, family and friends and move to the  over-crowded city to work for and live under the same roof with complete strangers because the salary is better. Their responsibilities include taking care of the children, taking care of the elderly who are disabled, cooking for the family and cleaning the house. They are entitled to officially one day off (as opposed to locals who are entitled to two) per week and a minimum wage of $4,010 HKD (378 euros) per month, which can sometimes be more than the salary if they work as a professor at home.

Credit: SACOM HK

There have been protests in Hong Kong against broader labour market conditions – here at the opening of HK’s first Apple store in 2011.

Inequality Ingrained in Labour Laws

Under Hong Kong’s Labour Law, foreign domestic workers do not receive equal treatment with local workers.

The minimum wage is lower than the minimum wage applicable to Hong Kong citizens, and there is no regulation of foreign workers’ actual working hours. These workers are also subject to the “two-week rule”, which states that if they are not re-employed within two weeks of becoming unemployed, they have to be deported to their home country. As a result this discourages them from reporting a complaint whenever they face violent abuse  because according to current legislation, they may not work during the time they file a complaint against an employer.

These legal procedures usually take more than two weeks, often stretching to months. In order to avoid being deported back to their home country, the abused workers often choose to tolerate the horrible working conditions. On top of this mistreatment, foreign workers who come to Hong Kong through recruitment agencies are usually charged a high agency fee, which takes them months to pay off.

Since Erwiana’s story has been publicised, many domestic workers’ rights groups and social activists have launched protests and campaigns to urge the government to amend the existing employment rules for foreign domestic workers. They are lobbying for the abandonment of the “two-week rule”, a maximum limit to the working hours of the workers, and the removal of the illegal agency fee.

Some opinions put the blame on recruitment agencies for charging workers unreasonable fees and exploiting them by adding unfair terms to their contracts. Others argue that the government should tighten the regulation of these recruitment agencies, to protect foreign workers’ rights.

Inequality reinforced by the Government

However the inequality stems from the way the system is set up by the government to intentionally take advantage of foreign workers, in order to benefit the Hong Kong labour market. Instead of redistributing resources and providing childcare service and domestic support for local families, the Hong Kong government fills the gap by reinforcing a system that exploits foreign workers.

Violent abuse against foreign workers is certainly inhumane, unjust and a reflection of inequality in Hong Kong society, and it is a positive development that more attention is now being paid to the issue. However, there should be just as much focus on how for decades people in power manipulated the capitalist system to exploit the underprivileged in Hong Kong.

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Will the new publicity be enough to force serious change in Hong Kong regarding the treatment of foreign domestic workers?  Has the government done enough yet?  Has Erwiana’s case exaggerated the extent of the problem? Let us know your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Protests in Bosnia: International Fast News

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There’s been talks, debates and protests across the world this week. From Taiwan and China’s historic talks to a question of parody in LA, Pandeia has it covered in The Bottom Line – International Edition.

The first government-to-government talks between China and Taiwan were held this week, 65 years after a brutal civil war which caused the death of between 2 and 3 million people. These talks were seen as a symbolic yet undoubtedly historically significant occurrence.  Wang Yu-chi, who oversees Taiwan’s China policy declared:

“That we can sit here today, formally getting together, formally holding meetings, together exploring issues that people on both sides of the strait care about – this represents a new chapter for cross-strait relations, and is a day worth recording,”

Taiwan and China have been separated when — following the loss of the civil war to Mao Zedong — two millions supporters of the Nationalist party fled to the island of Taiwan. Over the preceding decades Taiwan has found itself become more and more politically isolated as following its ousting from the UN, fewer and fewer countries officially recognise it.

However all is not lost for the Taiwanese as its military is supplied by the United States and it has consequently enjoyed a long economic boom even in the face of the ‘Global Recession’.

Bosnian Turmoil
Murmurs of a Bosnian Spring have taken shape following mass protests and huge demonstrations across the country. In three of the main cities, disorder has broken out following continued turmoil over the nation’s economic future.

As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.

The Balkan state has never truly recovered from the conflict that defined the region some 20 years previous. Its infant years as an independent state have been blighted by huge political infighting between the three main ethnic groups — the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) Croats and the Serbs. Its these divisions which have lead many in the country to lose faith in the political classes, blaming them for the stagnation of the economy and the mass unemployment that taints the social structures.

 

The government response to the protests has been lukewarm at best with prime minister, Nermin Niksic, arguing that there needs to be a differential made between workers who were legitimately protesting against economic conditions and “hooligans who used this situation to create chaos”. The state has already announced that any action that damages public property would be heavily prosecuted.

Just another coffee shop?
In lighter news, theres been a surprising new addition to the row of coffee shops in LA, its Starbucks but not as we know it.

 

The store who’s interior, exterior and coffee selection is an exact replica of Starbucks save for the ‘dumb’ prefix, was all the work of American Comedian Nathan Fielder who told the world in a press conference this week:

“Many of you probably know me as a comedian. But this is no joke. This is a real business I plan to get rich from. But I need your support.”

 

Unfortunately Starbucks failed to see the funny side and they, with the help of the Los Angeles Health and Food Agency shut the shop down within 6 days of it opening. It remains to be seen if Fielder will go ahead with his plans to open another shop in downtown Brooklyn.