This sneaky move by Apple seems to have been discovered in the very beginning of October by a software developer. (It was picked up by independent media a few days later.)
A Hiraku Dev blog post details the difference in the section source code, betweeon iOS 13.0 and iOS 13.1.1, that controls whether the flag will be displayed or not. Quoting from the blog post:
From the code above, we can see two significant changes:
- From iOS 13.1.1, the device models with “ZA” region do not add Taiwanese (ROC) flag to emoji list.
- From iOS 13.1.1, if you have a device with any region, but set your region to Hong Kong or Macau, iOS does not add Taiwanese (ROC) flag to emoji list.
The region code “ZA” is the model region of Hong Kong since iPhone XS / XR. Before iPhone XS, the region code of Hong Kong is “ZP”. This means that all Hong Kong devices since iPhone XS / XR with iOS 13.1.1 or above don’t show Taiwanese (ROC) flag in Emoji keyboard anymore, and there’s no workaround to pass this restriction.
The Taiwan Flag emjoi has already been removed from devices with the region set to China, going as far back as 2017. The move by Apple to remove it from Hong Kong and Macau users came at a time when the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong started getting increased global attention.