Fresh questions have emerged about the doctored image at the centre of a diplomatic row between Australia and China, as the Chinese embassy accuses Australia of ‘overreacting’ to the provocative tweet.
The artist Wuheqilin, a renowned ‘wolf warrior’ graphic artist with more than 600,000 followers on Twitter-like site Weibo is said to be behind the image, which depicts an Australian solider slitting the throat of an Afghan boy.
The image was shared by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zho Lijian on Monday, triggering a strong rebuke from prime minister Scott Morrison.
The unusual diplomatic row that has since unfolded has plunged relations to new lows amid already simmering trade tensions.
The image was thought to be taken from Weibo before being shared by Mr Zhao on Twitter (which is blocked inside China). But ABC journalist Xiaoning Mo, who covers China, noticed the image shared by the Communist Party spokesperson did not contain a watermark from the artist.
“That image carries his Weibo name's watermark at the bottom right of that image. Interestingly, the image that was shared by a Chinese spokesperson on his Twitter account looks like an original image without the watermark,” she said on ABC TV on Tuesday.
“Because normally if a normal person like me, if I need to grab an image from that particular Weibo account, that image would definitely carry a watermark at the bottom right of that image.”
She said the ABC was seeking to clarify with the artist “whether he was approached by somebody from the Foreign Ministry of China” to provide the government with the original image, or if the government accessed it another way.
Chinese embassy responds to tweet controversy
On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in Australia released a statement responding to the diplomatic rift, doubling down on China’s refusal to apologise for the confronting Twitter post.
The embassy condemned the “rage and roar” of Australian politicians and media outlets over the issue.
“Yesterday, Secretary of DFAT made a complaint to the Chinese Ambassador over a phone call about the twitter post of Mr Zhao Lijian. The Ambassador refuted the unwarranted accusations as absolutely unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
The embassy accused Australia of attacking China instead of facing up to its war crimes.
“Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Hua Chunying clearly stated China’s position on the matter later in the day,” the statement said.
“We would like to further stress the following: the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr Zhao’s tweet.
“The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism.
“All of this is obviously not helpful to the resetting of bilateral relationship.”
PM warns colleagues not to amplify response to China
Earlier on Tuesday Mr Morrison warned his government colleagues against further amplifying China's incendiary social media attack on the country.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the serious situation in bilateral relations when he joined a coalition partyroom meeting in Canberra via video, saying the government made clear its response to the post.
"That doesn't need any further amplification," he told colleagues.
"Our work is focusing on establishing dialogue that allows us to steadily work through issues as governments."
Mr Morrison on Monday described the image as repugnant and demanded China apologise and remove the post.
Neither was forthcoming, with the Chinese foreign ministry doubling down and suggesting Australia should do some soul-searching over the actions of its special forces.
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