China on Monday refused to apologise after a Chinese diplomat posted a graphic image depicting an Australian soldier with a bloodied knife next to an Afghan child, a post described by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as “repugnant” and “false”.
Following Morrison’s criticism, Australian media has called the photo fake though Twitter hasn’t taken it down yet.
It marks the continuing escalation of tensions in China-Australia ties on issues ranging from human rights violations and trade policies.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, posted the photo seemingly depicting an Australian soldier next to a child, who is seen holding a lamb.
The controversial post comes in the backdrop of an ongoing police investigation into a recent disclosure by Australia’s defence establishment that said the country’s soldiers had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
Recently, an inquiry report claimed to have learnt that from 2009-2013, about 25 Australian soldiers had been involved in the killings of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.
“Shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable,” spokesperson Zhao tweeted the caption.
PM Morrison issued a strong statement against the tweet, asking the social media platform to remove the photograph.
He described Zhao’s tweet as “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous” and that the “Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes”.
“It is a false image and terrible slur on our defence forces,” Morrison said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, on Monday brushed aside the criticism and instead asked Australia to do some “soul-searching” in the face of the war crimes investigation.
“The Australian government should do some soul-searching and bring the culprits to justice, and offer an official apology to the Afghan people and make the solemn pledge that they will never repeat such crimes,” Hua said on Monday.
“Earlier, they said the Chinese government should feel ashamed, but it is Australian soldiers who committed such cruel crimes. Shouldn’t the Australian government feel ashamed? Shouldn’t they feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians?” Hua argued.
Hua added, “The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague’s Twitter – does that mean that they think the cold-blooded murder of Afghan innocent civilians is justified while other people’s condemnation of such crimes are not justified?”
“Afghan lives matter,” she added.
Australia has criticised China for its handling of the Uighur minority living in the remote Xinjiang province, and has also called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
China’s list of complaints includes Canberra’s decision to block Chinese investment projects, ban Chinese tech firm Huawei from its 5G tender, and “incessant wanton interference in China’s Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs,” as per a list circulated by the Chinese embassy in Australia.
Last week, China announced that it will impose taxes on Australian wine of up to 212%.
The Chinese commerce ministry said these were temporary anti-dumping measures to stop subsidised imports of Australian wine.
Beijing has targeted other Australian imports in recent months, which include coal, sugar and barley.