Apple Inc has removed the Republic of China flag emoji from some iPhones, underscoring the difficult balance the company must strike in supporting free speech while appeasing China.
The Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper yesterday also criticized Apple’s decision to approve an app that shows police activity in Hong Kong and to allow its iTunes store to carry a song that has become a rallying cry for demonstrators in the midst of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.
The flag emoji change was implemented via software on iPhones sold in Hong Kong and Macau.
After Apple released new versions of its iOS 13 operating system, users in those territories noticed that the Taiwanese flag emoji was no longer available.
Apple previously removed the Taiwanese flag emoji for users in China.
An Apple spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Apple sells millions of iPhones in China and it relies on huge Chinese factories to assemble most of its handsets, but the company must also follow local laws that have become increasingly tough when it comes to digital information.
Last week, Apple rejected and then approved the app HKmap.live.
It has been used by protesters to report police movements and facilitates illegal activities, the People’s Daily said in a commentary late on Tuesday, echoing Apple’s reason for initially rejecting the app.
The song Glory to Hong Kong, which the paper described as advocating independence, had been “resurrected” after being removed from iTunes, the newspaper said.
Yesterday morning, the song was not available in China and Hong Kong’s iTunes stores.
“Over and over again, Apple’s actions are incomprehensible, and people have to wonder about their intentions,” the People’s Daily said.
“This reckless behavior will cause a lot of trouble for Apple, and it needs to think deeply,” it said, adding that allowing the “poisonous” software to gain traction is “a betrayal of Chinese people’s feelings.”
Apple joins other foreign companies, most recently the National Baskeball Association, struggling to navigate the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
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