The Republic of China flag emoji has disappeared from Apple iPhone’s keyboard for Hong Kong and Macau users. The change happened for users who updated their phones to the latest operating system.

Updating iPhones to iOS 13.1.1 or above caused the flag emoji to disappear from the emoji keyboard. The flag, commonly used by users to denote Taiwan, can still be displayed by typing “Taiwan” in English, and choosing the flag in prediction candidates.

The change was spotted by Hong Kong online forum users recently. The iOS 13.1.1 update rolled out at the end of September in order to fix bugs.

An HKFP reporter using an iPhone with iOS 13.1.2 also observed the change. Previously, the Taiwan flag emoji was banned on iPhone in China.

According to an article on Hiraku, a blog about Apple devices, any device model with “CN” or “ZA” region – denoting China and Hong Kong – will not have access to the Taiwan emoji via the keyboard.

If users have a device from another region, but they set the region to Hong Kong or Macau, the Taiwan emoji will also disappear. The Hiraku article stated that, before the 2018 model iPhone XS was released, the region code of Hong Kong was “ZP,” but it was changed to “ZA” after the iPhone XS was released.

Taiwan flag emoji
The Taiwan flag emoji can still be typed. Photo: HKFP.

“This means that all Hong Kong devices since iPhone XS / XR with iOS 13.1.1 or above [do not] show Taiwanese (ROC) flag in Emoji keyboard any more, and there’s no workaround to pass this restriction,” the article said.

“On the other hand, devices in other regions can add this restriction with software settings. If you want to try, just change your iOS 13.1.1+ device region to Hong Kong, and make sure that the interface language is not set to ‘Traditional Chinese (Taiwan),’ and then you can [find] that the Taiwanese flag is missing…”

Last year, HKFP reported that the names of some Chinese state leaders and activists were deemed “inappropriate words” and censored shoppers hoping to engrave their iPad, iPod Touch or Apple Pencil with a custom message.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan – which occupied the island for 50 years – was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

Live map banned

Meanwhile, an app showing the location of Hong Kong police deployments has been barred from the Apple app store.

It was banned as Apple said the app contained content that “facilitates, enables and encourages” illegal activities, the app’s developer said on Twitter.

“To make it clear, I still believe this is more a bureaucratic f up than censorship,” the developer said. “Everything can be used for illegal purpose [in] the wrong hand[s]. Our App is for info, and we do not encourage illegal activity.”

The app is still available on Google Play store. Its website version is also available.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.