A Chinese official has provoked outrage in Australia after he tweeted a fake image of an Australian soldier murdering an Afghan child.
The inflammatory image has threatened to worsen an already frosty relationship between Australia and China, whose diplomatic rapport has deteriorated in the past 12 months over COVID-19 and human rights issues.
The Chinese official, government spokesman Zhao Lijian, was seizing on the results of a damning inquiry that found evidence of unlawful killings and war crimes committed by members of the Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The manipulated image, posted by Zhao on Monday, shows a grinning soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of a barefooted child.
Zhao wrote, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers.” He then “pinned” the tweet, giving it pride of place at the top of his Twitter feed.
The post follows comments he made last week, in the wake of the Brereton report on Australian war crimes, in which he “strongly condemned” the actions of those found guilty and said the revelations “fully exposed the hypocrisy of the human rights and freedom these Western countries are always chanting”.
Australian special forces were found to have committed at least 39 unlawful killings during the war in Afghanistan. The doctored image seems to be a reference to allegations documented in the Brereton report that soldiers cut the throats of two 14-year-old Afghan boys.
Zhao’s remarks reflect an increasingly assertive Chinese government’s effort to hit out at its critics. The Australian government has angered Beijing by supporting an international probe of China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and criticizing Beiijng for its repression of Muslim minorities in its far-western Xinjiang region. In apparent retaliation, China has imposed heavy tariffs on a range of Australian goods, including wine.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Zhao’s tweet “repugnant,” demanding its removal.
“Australia’s seeking an apology from the Chinese Government for this outrageous post,” he said. “The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post.”
Morrison added, “There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia, but this is not how you deal with them.”
Russia has also criticised Australia in the aftermath of the Brereton report, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova saying that “the circumstances make us truly doubt the genuine capacity of Australian authorities to actually hold accountable all the servicemen who are guilty of such crimes.”
“It makes us reassess the true meaning of the official line pronounced by Canberra to protect the rules-based world order,” Zakharova said.
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