Australia has asked China to apologize for sharing a fake picture on its official Twitter handle. In the picture, an Australian soldier is shown killing an Afghan child.
As the outrage over the digitally altered image threatened to further deteriorate already rigid ties between the two nations to a new low, Morrison said the Chinese government “should be totally ashamed of this post”, which he said diminished Beijing on the world stage.
He said his government – which has been at odds with Beijing over a range of trade actions taken by China against Australian exports over the course of this year – was conveying its outrage directly to the Chinese ambassador to Australia and would also contact Twitter to demand it take down the post “in the interest of decency”.
Monday’s tweet from Zhao Lijian, a spokesman with China’s foreign ministry, seized on a recent report from a four-year-long official investigation into the conduct of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan.
Zhao wrote that he was “shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers” and he called for accountability.
Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable. pic.twitter.com/GYOaucoL5D
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) November 30, 2020
The tweet was accompanied by an inflammatory image that appears to depict an Australian soldier cutting the throat of a young civilian holding a sheep, together with the words “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne described the graphic tweet, as the most “egregious” instance of social media disinformation she had witnessed in her career, according to ABC News.
“The Australian Government has called in the Chinese ambassador and sought an apology from the ambassador in relation to this tweet,” she said. “We will [also] be conveying that message directly in Beijing through our ambassador.”
Afghan officials, as well as other countries, have also lambasted the killings uncovered in the recent investigation on Nov. 19 of at least 39 incidents of civilian killings in Afghanistan by Australian special forces.
The Brereton report, commissioned by the inspector-general of the Australian Defense Force, found “credible information” that Australian soldiers murdered civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra turned sour after the latter joined its Western allies in seeking a probe into the origins of COVID-19, which first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019.