Changing Maps to Win Arguments

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Countries that are fighting over land are using maps to prove their arguments. Map makers and other companies are often caught in the middle of these disputes.

Apple is the most recent company to give in to this kind of pressure by displaying an area called Crimea as part of Russia.

Ukrainian Crimea
Crimea has been part of Ukraine since the 1950s. But in 2014, Russia took control of Crimea. Though no country stopped Russia or forced it out, most countries still believe Crimea belongs to Ukraine. This map shows Crimea as part of Ukraine.
(Source: VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Crimea has been part of Ukraine since the 1950s. But in 2014, Russia took control of Crimea. Though no country stopped Russia or forced it out, most countries still believe Crimea belongs to Ukraine.

Now Russia is forcing mapping companies like Google and Apple to show Crimea as part of Russia. The government says that inside of Russia, Crimea must be shown as Russian.

Apple's Crimea Map
Apple and Google changed their maps of Crimea. Now, anyone in Russia looking at Crimea on those mapping services will see the area as part of Russia. Outside of Russia, both services show Crimea as if it isn’t a part of any country. This screenshot of Apple’s Crimea map was taken from outside of Russia.
(Source: Screenshot, Apple Maps.)

Google made the change in March. Apple changed their maps in late November. Now, anyone in Russia looking at Crimea on those mapping services will see the area as part of Russia. Outside of Russia, both services show Crimea as if it isn’t a part of any country.

Many people criticized Apple for changing its map. The company says will take a “deeper look” into how it displays disputed lands.

China – Taiwan

The dispute over Crimea isn’t the only argument over mapping. Many disputes involve China.

From 1927 to 1949, there was a war for control of China. When the Communists won the war in 1949, the group that had been fighting them escaped and set up their own government on the island now called Taiwan. But China has always believed that Taiwan belongs to it.

United Airlines Boeing 777 plane at Taipei Airport
For years, China has forced companies that call Taiwan a “country” to change their language. Most airlines don’t list Taiwan as a country, even if they fly there. They do this to avoid being punished by China. The picture shows a United Airlines plane at Taipei Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan.
(Source: Sunil Gupta [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons.)

For years, China has forced companies that call Taiwan a “country” to change their language. Most airlines don’t list Taiwan as a country, even if they fly there. They do this to avoid being punished by China.

Many other companies – car companies, clothing companies, hotels, and more – have apologized to China for calling Taiwan a “country”.

Flag map of China with all disputed territories added.
In 2018, Gap apologized for selling a t-shirt with a map of China that didn’t include Taiwan. In October, the fashion brand Christian Dior apologized for a presentation that used a similar map. The map of China shown above includes the areas that China claims.
(Source: DrRandomFactor [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

In 2018, Gap apologized for selling a t-shirt with a map of China that didn’t include Taiwan. In October, the fashion brand Christian Dior apologized for a presentation that used a similar map. In August, three clothing companies apologized for t-shirts that showed Hong Kong as its own country.

Disputes with China

Several other countries are upset that China seems to be trying to grab parts of the world that they think belong to them.

The most famous examples involve maps with a “nine-dash line”. This line shows China claiming most of the South China Sea. Five other countries say that parts of this sea belong to them.

Nine-dash line shown in map submitted by the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Many disputes involve China’s nine-dash line, which covers most of the South China Sea and it represents waters that China says belong to it. But five other countries say that parts of this sea belong to them. The nine dashes are the short black dashed lines in the water.
(Source: PRC/UN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

In October, the children’s movie “Abominable” was blocked in Malaysia and Vietnam because it briefly showed a map with the nine-dash line.

Vietnam’s government took away a Volkswagen car because its built-in mapping program showed the nine-dash line. In the future, similar mapping apps will be removed from all cars brought to Vietnam. Vietnam says no products with maps showing a nine-dash line will be permitted.

The map on the wall in the movie "Abominable", with China's "Nine-dash line" around the South China Sea.
In October, the children’s movie “Abominable” was blocked in Malaysia and Vietnam because it briefly showed a map with the nine-dash line. The line can be seen just to the right of the girl in the picture above. Vietnam says no products with maps showing a nine-dash line will be permitted.
(Source: Screenshot of Abominable Trailer, DreamWorksTV.)

One thing seems clear – when countries disagree about who owns what, companies working in those countries will have a hard time keeping everyone happy.


Did You Know…?

It’s not just maps – flags are important, too. In China, Apple products don’t show the flag of Taiwan. Earlier this year, Apple removed the Taiwan flag from iPhones and iPads in Hong Kong, too.

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