Israel disappears from online maps run by Chinese tech giants

06:51PM Tue 31 Oct, 2023

The word "Israel" is missing on digital mapping platforms of tech giants Baidu and Alibaba, the Wall Street Journal has reported. According to the US media outlet, while Baidu's Chinese language online maps have Israel and the Palestinian territories delineated, the name of the country is not explicitly mentioned.

The same situation is observed on Alibaba's Amap platform, WSJ said. It was unclear if "Israel" was marked prior to the events of October 7.

In a report, The Telegraph said, social media users noted the apparent disappearance of Israel since Hamas murdered thousands on October 7, prompting surprise and anger.

Shaun Maguire, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia, accused the tech giants of deliberately omitting Israel and said on X, formerly known as Twitter, it was a "major provocation from China", Telegraph said.

Baidu denied deliberately erasing Israel, saying smaller countries may not always have their names displayed at certain zoom levels.

Spokesman Jing Meng said: "Where space is limited, our maps may not display the names or flags of some territories, the Telegraph said. "Users can find corresponding countries or areas on Baidu Maps by simply using the map's search function," Jing Meng added.

Lebanon is clearly labelled on Baidu's map despite having around half the landmass of Israel. The Telegraph was unable to observe the name Israel on Baidu Maps at any zoom level, although searching for the country did navigate to the state.

Baidu's map search function appears to struggle with functions that run smoothly on Western equivalents from the likes of Google or Bing.

Typing "China" into Baidu Maps causes it to zoom into a small town called China on the Japanese island of Okinoerabu, instead of showing the Asian nation of 1.4 billion people.

Scrutiny of Baidu and Alibaba's treatment of Israel comes against a backdrop of tensions over how Taiwan is labelled on maps.

Chinese state media criticised Google in 2005 for removing a label on its Maps product that described Taiwan as "a province of the People's Republic of China".

Earlier this year Beijing provoked outrage after releasing a new "official" state map that included Taiwan within its territory and expanded China's claims within the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and India all objected to the map.

Beijing has taken a more ambivalent stance towards Israel's war against Hamas than many Western nations. It said last week it supported Israel's right to self defence but has called for a ceasefire. Last week it joined forces with Russia at the UN to push for an end to hostilities.