By Phil Mercer
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is demanding the Chinese government delete a “repugnant” tweet of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The doctored image appears to shows an Australian soldier murdering a child. It follows a report last week that found Australian special forces had committed at least 39 unlawful killings in Afghanistan.
The image is confronting. It was posted by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao and shows a doctored image which portrayed an Australian soldier with a bloody knife next to a child. The child is seen holding a lamb. The text beneath the photo reads: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Australian media reported the Twitter post appeared to be a reference to unsubstantiated rumors that elite Australian soldiers used knives to murder two Afghan teenagers. An inquiry into misconduct by special forces found no evidence to support the hearsay.
It did, however, find “credible evidence” of unlawful killings by Australian forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
Last week Zhao said China “strongly condemned” the soldiers’ actions, and that the four-year inquiry “fully exposed the hypocrisy of the human rights and freedom these Western countries are always chanting”.
The fake picture posted online has infuriated Australia.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” said Prime Minister Morrison. “Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Chinese government for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately. It is a false image and a terrible slur.”
Relations between the two nations were already frosty over allegations of Chinese interference in Australia’s domestic affairs, cyber-espionage and differing views on Beijing’s military expansion in the South China Sea and democracy in Hong Kong. Canberra’s call for a global investigation into the origins of the new coronavirus, which was first detected in China, angered the Chinese government. It insisted Australia was unfairly targeting China.
China now appears to be using trade to pressure Australia. Last week, Beijing announced sweeping tariffs on Australian wine exports, which are likely to inflict huge losses on parts of the industry. China has also imposed restrictions on other agricultural commodities and coal from Australia.
Analysts say the dispute over a fake photo posted by a Chinese official on Twitter will only enflame tensions further.