Apple has reportedly asked Taiwan-based suppliers to label their products as being produced in China, in an effort to avoid disruption from strict Chinese customs inspections resulting from the visit of the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to Taipei.
According to Nikkei, the company has asked manufacturers on the island to label components bound for mainland China as made in “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan, China”. The labels are required in order to comply with a longstanding but previously unenforced rule that requires imported goods to suggest the island is part of the People’s Republic of China.
The phrase “Made in Taiwan” can lead to delays, fines, and even the rejection of an entire shipment under the rule. But Taiwan itself requires exports to be labelled with the point of origin: either the name “Taiwan” or the country’s official name, “Republic of China”.
The choice to require suppliers to deny Taiwan’s independent existence has led to criticism from around the world. GreatFire, which works against Chinese censorship online, noted that the move was an escalation from a previous slight by Apple, which removed the Taiwan flag from emoji keyboards for users in China and Hong Kong. “Is it a question of time before Apple starts removing apps whose name contains the characters [for] Taiwan without specifying ‘province of China’,” the organisation asked.
“Unfortunately, we suspect that Apple’s ‘red-line’, the moment where it will say: ‘Stop, no longer, we cannot continue to collaborate with the Chinese regime and enforce its requests for censorship,’ is nowhere close,” GreatFire’s Benjamin Ismail told the Register news site.
Apple may have felt as if it had little choice but to comply with China’s requests. Shipment delays now would be ruinous, as the company moves into the final production phase for the iPhone 14, expected to be announced at a press event next month. Supply chain shortages have already started to bite, with the company taking the unprecedented decision, according to influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, of shipping the cheaper non-Pro variants of the phone with the same core chip that is already in the iPhones 13 currently on sale.
Apple’s long-running attempts to diversify its production process are finally paying off, however. According to Kuo, the company expects to ship versions of the iPhone 14 from factories in India alongside its Chinese manufacturers on release day. In previous years, Indian factories have been months behind China on the cutting-edge devices, waiting for early kinks to be smoothed out before they switch production over from older models. This year, for instance, Foxconn’s Indian sites began assembling the iPhone 13 in April, around the same time that the company’s Brazilian operations switched over.
The models produced in India and Brazil largely serve to fulfil demand in local markets, and aren’t intended to be exported around the world. For that, Apple’s Chinese factories still serve an irreplaceable role, as they do in serving the millions of Chinese customers who buy iPhones.