Do any of the soaps have Asian characters? Any at all? Within the past 5 years?
On One Life to Live (OLTL) at least, the answer is "more than zero," though not a great deal more.
In the summer of 2004, Jessica Niles played Julie Tanaka,
one of a group of college students living and working together on a summer project. She was one of 3 newbies cast to add to 4 white college students already on the show. The newbies were, predictably, one of each stereotype: the homosexual guy, the gay-baiting jock white guy, the superachiever black guy, and the brainy Asian chick. Julie doubled as the bulimic chick because there weren't enough newbies to go around to pin that on someone else. I think this was Jessica Niles's first professional role anywhere. I can't find anything written about her that would indicate her "Asianness credentials," so to speak, but you can see her here: http://frostbitten4....d.com/id41.html
at center of the very last pic on the page. There were elements to the storyline indicating clearly that it was intended to last well beyond the summer, but there was an EP change, and it got wrapped up hastily and dropped. Julie Tanaka recently returned to the screen briefly as one of the murder victims in a serial killer story.
Before that, and partially within your 5-year timeframe, Christine Toy Johnson http://www.christinetoyjohnson.com
played Det. Lisa West
on OLTL from (acc. to IMDb) 1998-2001. Her website says she was recurring and appeared in more than 60 episodes. As I recall, she had cop dialogue with Police Commissioner Bo Buchanan at the police station or she'd be on the scene of a crime investigation. For about a year or so toward the end, she and District Attorney Hank Gannon were "dating." Which mean that they'd sometimes be seen leaving the station together, on their way out to a date, or they'd occasionally be seen standing around in the background at Rodi's, the local cop hangout, with her on his arm, while front-burner characters with actual stories, uttered dialogue in the foreground. But they were usually greeted by name when they came in and bellied up to the bar with the others.
Small though this role was, Det. Lisa West was at least a frequent presence. And Christine Toy Johnson was tireless in appearing at charitable functions. Whenever one of the soap rags ran a blurb about some charity event attended by soap actors, she was there, representing OLTL.
During the same period, 1998-2001, there was a noticeable presence of minorities in the overall "look" of OLTL. Black uniformed-cop extras walked back and forth in the background at the police station. At least one under-fiver black woman played a character who had both a name -- Sgt. Annie Hicks, I think -- and a bit of dialogue now and then. Pamela Isaacs was recurring as ob-gyn Dr. Josie Conklin and got quite a lot to do when pregnancy was part of someone's story. At trials, the presiding judge was usually the recurring Novella Nelson as Judge Barbara Fitzwater, and contract actor Nathan Purdee was at the prosecutor's bench as the DA, Hank Gannon. Contract players: During a large part of this period, there were 5 characters of Puerto Rican heritage and 2 African-Americans. As is par for the course on any soap, the 4 youthful PR characters (2 male, 2 female) were front-burner in love stories, and only the middle-aged mami went unpaired. Meanwhile, the 2 AAs, both men, got precious little romance. But they did figure heavily as supporting characters. Hank Gannon was both the DA and the best friend and constant "talk-to" of the Police Commissioner. His brother, RJ Gannon, nighclub owner and sometimes small-time crook, was a frequent schemer and also became good friends with one of the soap's divas.
This period, 1998-2001, coincided with the regime of the often hated-on EP Jill Farren-Phelps. I'm not one of her defenders, because she typically does some things that are very destructive to the long-term wellbeing of the soaps she EPS, but I also recognize that she did some fairly decent things. See above. It was less than ideal (e.g., why shouldn't 2 sexy men like the Gannon brothers be swimming in women?), but Llanview at least looked more like the world we live in when she was EP than it does right this minute.
At the same time, JFP presided over one of the most heinous racial incidents I've ever seen on a soap. Year: 2000. Needed: an incident to make Police Commissioner Bo Buchanan feel so glum about himself that he'd ride off on his motorcycle, pick up a nameless blonde on the road, and screw her brains out to cheer himself up. What JFP used: With his bare fists, Bo beat the living crap out of an unarmed and unresisting black man, RJ Gannon, who had been taunting him verbally, in a public place (Rodi's, the cop hangout), in full view of a large number of his police force. The investigation of the incident was perfunctory. Bo hid behind the blue wall of silence. He was never even reprimanded. The full implications of his abuse of police power and its racially inflammatory nature were never acknowledged by OLTL. Bo felt down in the dumps for a short time for "losing control" and got to screw his blonde. A few weeks later, an unperturbed Bo Buchanan stood up in front of the class of police cadets and unselfconsciously addressed them about the importance of "police honor." The hypocrisy of it all went unremarked.
More than you wanted to know. Apologies.