WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday a tweet by a Chinese official which shows a fake image of an Australian soldier appearing to slit a child’s throat is “truly repugnant.”
Morrison said he is seeking an apology from the Chinese government. The incident is further increasing tensions between the two nations in a relationship that was already under strain.
The graphic image was posted Monday by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry. It shows a grinning soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of a veiled child, who is holding a lamb.
Zhao wrote a caption with the tweet saying: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”
Zhao was referring to a disturbing report by Australia's military earlier this month which found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians during the conflict in Afghanistan.
The report recommended 19 soldiers be referred to federal police for criminal investigation.
Morrison said the tweet was “utterly outrageous” and a terrible slur against Australia's military.
It “is truly repugnant. It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform,” he told reporters in Canberra. “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”
Morrison said it had contacted Twitter asking them to take the post down. The post had a warning tag on it Monday afternoon but was still able to be viewed. Zhao's account comes with a Twitter label stating that it's a Chinese government account.
Despite China blocking Twitter and other U.S. social media platforms within the county, Chinese diplomats and state media have established a strong presence on them.
Zhao was criticized by the U.S. in March after tweeting a conspiracy theory that U.S. soldiers may have brought the coronavirus to China. He is considered a leading representative of China’s high-pitched new strain of assertive foreign relations.
Morrison acknowledged there were tensions between China and Australia.
“But this is not how you deal with them," he said. “Australia has patiently sought to seek to address the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature way, in a responsible way, by seeking engagement at both leader and ministerial level.”
The rift between the two nations has been growing this year after the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China has since imposed tariffs on a number of Australian exports.