WARNING - DISTURBING CONTENT: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has blasted China’s foreign ministry for a Twitter post on Monday of a shocking fake image of a grinning Australian soldier slitting the throat of what appears to be an Afghan child.
The prime minister labelled the picture “truly repugnant” and “deeply offensive to every Australian [and] every Australian that's served in that uniform".
The image was shared by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on his Twitter account and is Beijing’s latest move in their condemnation of the alleged killing of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian special force soldiers detailed in the Brereton report released earlier this month.
The image shows a soldier with Australian flags on his helmet and right arm, holding a bloodied knife to the throat of a child whose face is covered by a semi-transparent blue cloth.
The child is holding a lamb, with the image superimposed on an Australian flag covering an Afghan flag made of puzzle pieces.
In text below the soldier and child it reads: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Morrison seeking apology from China
“It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever,” he told reporters.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes.”
Mr Morrison said Australia is seeking an apology from China’s foreign ministry and has asked Twitter to remove the post.
Twitter did not remove the post, but has censored it by hiding the pic behind the warning, “The following media includes potentially sensitive content”.
The image is set to put further strain on a badly-damaged relationship with China which has rapidly deteriorated throughout 2020 and resulted in what Australia believes to be a series of economic sanctions on exports.
Mr Morrison acknowledged the tensions between the two countries but stressed “this is not how you deal with them”.
The image has only further cemented China’s stance towards Australia, with the foreign ministry and state media repeatedly stressing in recent weeks Australia must make a number of concessions if the relationship is to be repaired.
On Friday, Mr Zhao hit out at Australia over the findings of the Brereton report, branding Australia “hypocrites”.
“Australia and some other western countries always portray themselves as human rights defenders and wantonly criticize other countries' human rights conditions,” he said.
“The facts revealed by this report fully exposed the hypocrisy of the "human rights" and "freedom" these western countries are always chanting.”
China has repeatedly denied allegations of human rights abuse of more than one million Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang, alleged actions the Australian government has condemned.
China’s attack comes after similar Russia move
China intensified its condemnation of alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan after Russia made similar comments.
Russia claimed allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan had weakened Australia's international standing.
Moscow's foreign ministry spokeswoman also claimed Australian soldiers accused of murdering civilians and torturing prisoners would not be held accountable.
Maria Zakharova said the allegations called into question Australia's commitment to protecting the rules-based world order.
Senior cabinet minister Simon Birmingham delivered a thinly-veiled rebuke against Russia.
"We can take pride in the work of our servicemen and women," he told the ABC.
"Unlike other countries who may sweep these things under the carpet, we undertook a thorough investigation, we're applying remedies to address it."
Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute accused Russia of rank hypocrisy.
"This is the Russia that was responsible for the shoot-down of (Malaysian Airlines plane) MH17 over Ukraine, the invasion of Crimea, support to Assad in Syria in murderous ways," he told ABC radio.
"To hear these comments from the Russian foreign ministry just tells me the height of hypocrisy that the Russians are prepared to go to in their sustained attack on Western democracies."
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