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How Apple Helped China Reclaim Taiwan, and More Mapping Messes

How Apple Helped China Reclaim Taiwan, and More Mapping Messes

Taiwanese officials are up in arms after discovering that Apple maps refers to their country as a province of China — in simplified Chinese characters, no less.

The government filed a complaint with the company Tuesday, demanding that it drop the China reference. Kelly Hsieh, the head of the foreign ministry’s North American affairs office, told reporters that the label degrades Taiwan and that "no compromise will be made over this kind of matter."

Taiwan’s political status has always been a sensitive issue. Having split from mainland China in 1949, it has its own army, constitution, and democratically elected leaders. But China continues to assert that Taiwan is a breakaway province that will eventually be reclaimed. Apple’s position on the dispute is, as yet, unclear: It’s website refers to Taiwan in traditional Chinese characters, without mention of China at all. But the updated map app on Apple’s iOS 7 says something rather different.

It’s not the first time that Apple maps has frustrated Taiwanese officials. In 2012, the defense ministry complained that the iPhone 5 version of the app clearly displayed top-secret military facilities on the island.   

Apple’s mum about the recent controversy, but it might consider discussing the matter with Google, which has repeatedly inflamed international tensions with its maps. In 2010, Google’s re-drawing of the Thai-Cambodian sparked a diplomatic controversy. Later that year, a Nicaraguan commander justified a raid on a Costa Rican border area by citing Google’s erroneous delineation of the contested boundary. The list goes on. In an interview last year, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt summed up the issue succinctly, saying, "Maps are really hard." Not as hard as international relations, it seems.