Apple, which celebrates its self-proclaimed commitment to free speech and human rights, has reportedly instructed its suppliers in Taiwan to label their components so that they describe Taiwan as a province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
According to Japanese financial publication Nikkei, Apple on Friday warned its suppliers that China has stepped up enforcement of a long-standing import rule “that Taiwan-made parts and components must be labeled as being made in ‘Taiwan, China’ or ‘Chinese’ Taipei. ‘”
The register asked Apple for comment on this report, and the iGiant used its free speech to say nothing. If Apple responded, it would presumably say something like, “We follow the law in countries where we do business,” or “we were only following orders.”
Taiwan was recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign country from 1949 to 1971, when the UN General Assembly voted to expel the Republic of China (Taiwan) and admit the PRC (Mainland China). Since then, the US has maintained a “one China policy” that recognizes the PRC as China’s only legitimate government without accepting Chinese claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, officially a territory.
Nevertheless, the US supplies weapons to Taiwan and considers it an important trading partner – more than ever given the economic and strategic significance of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which makes tons of chips for America and the rest of the world.
While China and the US have allowed Taiwan’s status to remain ambiguous to avoid open warfare, the uneasy peace is often put to the test, as was the case this week when Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives , visited Taiwan after being warned evicted by the Chinese government.
US warns that losing access to Taiwanese chips could break the economy
Pelosi’s visit infuriated the CCP, which responded by holding threatening military exercises and announcing countermeasures, including the suspension of military, legal and economic cooperation efforts between China and the US. The CCP authorities have also sanctioned Pelosi and her family. China’s decision to enforce its import labeling rules to designate Taiwan as its own province presumably follows this fit of anger.
Apple has prospered by relying on Chinese companies as part of its supply chain. But due to its reliance on China for sales and product assembly, the company is unwilling to challenge blatant abuses, even though it claims otherwise.
In September 2020, Apple issued a document [PDF] entitled “Our Commitment to Human Rights.” It states, “At Apple and throughout our supply chain, we prohibit harassment, discrimination, violence and retaliation of any kind — and we do not tolerate violations motivated by any form of prejudice or bigotry.”
Apple has shown a little more tolerance for the mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs in China.
In December 2020, the Tech Transparency Project reported that Apple’s suppliers rely on forced labor. And in May 2021, a report by The Information accused seven of Apple’s suppliers of relying on forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
When US lawmakers proposed a law to hold companies accountable for allowing suppliers to use forced labor, Apple lobbied against the bill, which was nevertheless signed by President Biden late last year. Apple also unsuccessfully lobbied the SEC to block a shareholder proposal to require the company to disclose more details about labor practices in its supply chain.
After Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed his company’s alleged commitment to privacy at the 2022 IAPP Global Privacy Summit, Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr challenged Cook in a public letter about Apple’s removal of the Voice of America app from the App Store in China.
Taiwan prosecutors allege Chinese biz stole Apple supplier’s IP and R&D team
Benjamin Ismail, project director for AppleCensorship.com, associated with the China-focused advocacy group Great Fire, told The register in an email in which his organization responded to Nikkei’s report on product labeling in Taiwan by raising concerns via Twitter that it may only be a matter of time before Apple starts removing apps containing the characters “台湾/台灣” (Taiwan) without specifying “province of China” from the App Store.
“We asked if Apple would soon start censoring apps with names that don’t follow Beijing rules or because of their content,” Ismail says. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t a rhetorical question or a sarcastic joke. We know very well that such censorship is something Apple is absolutely capable of, as it has demonstrated time and again over the past ten years.”
As an example, Ismail pointed to Apple’s censorship of the Taiwanese flag emoji on iOS devices sold in Hong Kong and Macau.
“During the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, [Apple] has removed an app used by protesters for security reasons,” he said. “It issued very strict guidelines to its employees about their involvement in the movement and insultingly and strongly restricted their freedom of expression.”
“Unfortunately, we suspect that Apple’s ‘red line’, the moment it says ‘stop, no longer, we cannot continue to cooperate with the Chinese regime and enforce its requests for censorship,’ is nowhere near,” Ismail said. Apple has shown that it is willing to go to great lengths to secure the Chinese market, including violating sanctions by doing business with entities targeted by US sanctions (see here, here, here and here).
“But we are committed to continuing to denounce Apple’s censorship and human rights abuses. No company, let alone a Big Tech company, should prioritize profit over human rights and individual freedoms.” ®