A state-backed Chinese newspaper has hit out at Apple over its listing of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China as separate entities, claiming that the democratic island of Taiwan is "an inalienable part" of its territory.
Hong Kong and Taiwan were listed "on par" with China on a slide showing markets for the new iPhone XS, the Global Times newspaper, sister paper to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said.
The paper appeared to warn that such a lack of "political consciousness" could harm Apple's interests, citing Li Haidong, international relations expert at the state-backed China Foreign Affairs University.
"Apple is not the first multinational company to adopt such a double standard," the Global Times reported in a signed opinion article on Thursday.
"Ikea, referring to Taiwan the same way as China and other countries, caused similar disputes in August."
It said a number of airlines had also "received letters" earlier this year protesting their listing of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as separate destinations in a list on their websites.
A drop-down menu of store locations on Apple's website on Friday offered China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau as possible options, with the prompt "choose a country or region."
E-mailed requests for comment from Apple's China division had received no reply by the time of publication.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen last month called on the international community to resist China's efforts to isolate the island by forcing its diplomatic ties to break links with Taipei under the "one China policy."
Tsai said the 23 million residents of Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, was "entitled to [a] place in the world."
A nationalistic mood
Beijing-based rights activist Li Wei said the Chinese government is currently taking every opportunity to whip up nationalist sentiment as a way of countering the impact of what it sees as hostile foreign ideology, but that foreign companies can choose how they will respond.
"The Chinese government has always tried to create a nationalistic mood, as an ideological antidote to anything from the West," Li told RFA. "As for how foreign companies respond, it depends on where their bottom line is; I hope they won't do any more evil."
"I hope that they won't carry out data collection for the Chinese government, or hand over intelligence reports," he said.
Guangdong-based rights activist Jia Pin said the Global Times article showed that Beijing is constantly seeking to project its power beyond its borders.
"This is really a way of exercising hegemony, including the way it exerted pressure on the airlines to drop Taiwan as a destination," Jia told RFA. "It also shows that it is continuing to concentrate more and more power in its hands, to the extent of interfering in international affairs."
According to Taiwan's president Tsai, Beijing has also sent military aircraft to encircle Taiwan, forced international airlines to change the way they refer to it as a destination, and deprived Taichung city of its right to host the East Asian Youth Games.
Chinese money was also behind El Salvador's switch of recognition to Beijing, which came after Taiwan denied repeated requests for massive injections of funding for its Port La Union project, according to Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs.
The island's Republic of China government, a remnant of the Kuomintang nationalist regime that abandoned the Chinese mainland after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists in 1949, has said it will continue to pursue "greater democracy, freedom, and sovereignty."
Support for self-rule
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei under the "One China" policy.
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, according to a military analysis published by the Pentagon in Washington last week.
Armed forces under the ruling Chinese Communist Party "continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion," the U.S. Department of Defense said in an annual report on China's military capabilities.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the Republic of China under the nationalist KMT government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
When the KMT regime fled to Taiwan in 1947 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communist troops, the Republic of China ceased to control most of China, but continues to be the official name of the Taiwan government.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.