Amidst the on-going political battle between China and its push for unification, Apple has removed the Taiwanese flag on its Emoji keyboard in its latest software update as a way to appease the Communist country.
Apple Inc.’s move is a particular signifier that the tech giant is finding a balance between freedom of speech and continued corporate subservience to the Chinese government.
Although China and Taiwan have been governed separately for decades, the Communist Party maintains unification as its ultimate goal. However, against the backdrop of intensifying protests in Hong Kong, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party supports independence, has stepped up her criticism towards Beijing.
Apple itself has not noted the change and has silently moved to remove the Taiwanese flag. The change was implemented via software on iPhones that were exclusively sold in Hong Kong and Macau. After Apple released new versions of its iOS 13 operating system in recent days, users in those cities quickly noticed that the Taiwanese flag option was no longer available on the emoji keyboard.
Users in other regions can remove the flag by setting their iPhones’ local country to Hong Kong or Macau. If a person sends the flag to a user in those areas, it will still appear. On the other, the same is not possible on mainland China iPhones as Apple has already removed the Taiwanese flag emoji for users in that region.
Apple’s decision to oblige with China’s request is in part, where the Communist country remains to be a significant playing field when it comes to the sale of Apple products given its large population.
Another reason for Apple’s move is that the company currently relies on huge Chinese factories to assemble most of its handsets, a disruption between their relationship could mean retaliation for further business transactions.
Notably, Apple is not the only company bowing to the demands of the Chinese government. Despite employee protests, Google has apparently continued work on Dragonfly, a censored, Chinese-tailored version of its search engine. Meanwhile, Microsoft censors itself for China on LinkedIn and Bing, as reported. In August, Quartz reported on ByteDance (parent company of video-sharing app TikTok), which seemingly censors the Hong Kong protests from its platform.
As of the moment, for iPhone users in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Taiwanese flag is not entirely absolved as it is still accessible through predictive features on the English keyboard (typing “Taiwan” and selecting the flag emoji), and for users who have their phone’s region set to anywhere other than mainland China, Macau, or Hong Kong, as described by Wang Boyuan on her Twitter account.
“Apple’s region lock of ROC Taiwan flag extended beyond CN devices to HK and Macau’s in the iOS/iPadOS 13.1.1 rollout. Interestingly, the new lock only affects the keyboard, and has no problem displaying and is easy to bypass by switching region,” Boyuan says.