Apple Asks Taiwanese Suppliers to Label Parts as “Made In China”

08-08-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, Apple has been reported to ask suppliers in Taiwan to affix the label “Made in China” to parts being shipped to China after tensions increased between the two countries. What challenges does the Taiwan-China relationship present, why has Apple asked this, and should Apple reconsider its stance on the Taiwanese situation?

What challenges does the Taiwan-China relationship present?

Before the COVID pandemic of 2020, engineers would rarely be involved with politics or foreign policy (except for those who design components with potential military applications). For example, those manufacturing products in the UK would have to ensure that parts do not use minerals sourced from the DRC and that any product shipped to a foreign nation doesn’t fall under export restrictions.

However, the COVID pandemic of 2020 saw massive worldwide disruption to supply chains that included the semiconductor industry. When governments worldwide quickly became aware that the vast majority of state-of-the-art semiconductors were manufactured by a few countries in Asia. It also became apparent that a country without a supply of such devices is extremely vulnerable both economically and militarily. 

But the single most frighting fact by far is that the majority of these semiconductors are made in Taiwan, and China (a long-time opponent of the West), has been eyeing Taiwan for “reunification”. As such, China decided to take Taiwan would see global semiconductor supplies crash and would bring about a whole new meaning to the word “disruption”.

As it cannot be determined if or when China will take Taiwan by force, engineers now have to consider the long-term implications of using Taiwanese manufacturers. Of course, TSMC is an industry leader when it comes to next-generation semiconductors. Still, a sudden invasion of Taiwan by China would see these foundries inoperable (personally, I believe that in the event of an invasion, the US would extract Taiwanese researchers in a similar move to Nazi rocket scientists at the end of the second world war). Additionally, a sudden invasion of Taiwan could also see the Taiwanese military target its own foundries to prevent the capture of key equipment by China (it may not be able to operate the foundries, but it could certainly “liberate” it for the Peoples Republic of China).

Apple asks suppliers to remove “Made in Taiwan” labels

Recently, Apple has been reported to ask suppliers in Taiwan to replace labels saying “Made in Taiwan” with “Made in China” on products being shipped to China. This request comes after increasing tensions between Taiwan and China due to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which has seen China become more stringent with imports from Taiwan. According to Apple, China will often impose fines and fees on products coming from Taiwan that do not specify “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei”, and Taiwan will do the same for products leaving Taiwan that do not specify “Made in Taiwan”, or more hilariously, “Made in the Republic of China”.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Apple has made a move that ignores Taiwanese independence; it was not long ago when Apple removed the Taiwanese flag from iPhones in China and Hong Kong in accordance with Chinese law. However, Apple asking Taiwanese suppliers to remove references to an independent country is seeing a backlash from the general public and will undoubtedly hurt their reputation (especially when considering that Apple takes advantage of being based in a free country that supports democracies but selectively chooses to ignore the ones that are inconvenient). 

Should Apple reconsider its position on Taiwan?

It is very easy to sit here in our comfortable democratic countries and use our keyboard warrior skills to shame Apple for not recognising Taiwan while consuming products designed by the company we are shaming and manufactured in the country we disagree with. The painful truth in the matter is that Apple, at the end of the day, is a company, and it has responsibilities to its shareholders, its employees, and all businesses that work with Apple throughout its entire supply chain. As such, it made a financially sound decision that will help to ensure the release of its next generation of iPhones which the keyboard warriors will undoubtedly be waiting in line for.

However, that isn’t to say that moving forward, engineers can take such matters into consideration when establishing supply chains. For example, manufacturing can be relocated locally, with key parts being sourced from Taiwan and directly shipped instead of using 3rd party manufacturers in China (or vice versa). Engineers can also look at their supply chains in greater detail, establish the relationship between each party’s nation, and perform a risk analysis (i.e. the UK leaving the EU increases risks) which can help protect against future conflicts.

Fundamentally, we as engineers have to ask ourselves how much we genuinely care about the welfare of others and whether we should make different decisions that may incur additional costs to help support those with similar ideals.

Is it right for us to ignore Taiwanese independence when they have a democratic system that cares about individual rights? Should we turn our backs on those who think differently from us just because we believe we are right? What would future generations say about our actions?


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.