taiwan flag apple
July 13, 2015

Apple might be in hot water over flag emoji

In June, Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference and released iOS 9 beta 1 to developers. Bloggers began to spread word of new emoji releases, including one that may cause some enmity: the flag of Taiwan.

This may seem innocuous to the Western world, but this could be taken the wrong way by China, one of Apple’s fastest growing markets. In the last quarter, China’s iPhone sales surpassed both the US’s and Europe’s for the first time.

A contentious history

Why does China care so much about a little emoji? It all comes down to history.

An oversimplification: China and Taiwan have been at odds since 1949, when the Communist Party forced the former Chinese government to flee the mainland. The former government then settled on the island of Taiwan.

Both Taiwan and mainland China saw themselves as the true Chinese Republic (with the mainland viewing Taiwan as a renegade province). Technically, the two have been at war since, as no formal peace treaty has ever been signed.

Things have gotten less antagonistic in recent years. In 2014, the two countries had their first direct contact since 1949. After all, both countries had agreed in 1992 that there was only one China.

However, each had a different idea of who was the real China—meaning that they agreed on the fact that the other country was wrong. And since the passing of a 2005 law in mainland China, Taiwan is not legally allowed to secede, meaning that if Taiwan isn’t careful, war could rekindle.

The bottom line

In sum, Apple may be alienating one of their biggest markets by adding the emoji Taiwan flag, as it makes it appear that Apple recognizes them as a nation separate from mainland China. This might seem like an inconsequential thing, but the flag is still controversial, as Katy Perry found out at a concert in April when she wore the flag as a cape along with a sunflower dress (also a Taiwanese symbol).

Apple may yet remove the emoji, as nothing is set until the beta period ends. But for now, you can check out the emoji for yourself—Apple has released the beta of iOS 9 to the public!

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