Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned a fake image of an Australian soldier posted on the Twitter account of a Chinese government spokesman as “truly repugnant” and demanded the post be removed.
The image, depicting a grinning Australian soldier holding a blood-stained knife to the throat of an Afghan child, was posted on Monday on the verified account of China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
Morrison said the Australian government was demanding an apology from China and had asked Twitter to remove the tweet, which was pinned at the top of Zhao’s feed.
“It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis,” Morrison said. “The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”
Relations between Australia and China have deteriorated sharply in recent months.
China has introduced a string of economic sanctions on Australian goods and state-controlled news outlets have repeatedly attacked Australia over a range of issues.
The bad will appears to have been prompted by Canberra’s decision to push back on Beijing’s growing power in the region and call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Morrison said countries around the world were watching how Beijing responded to tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.
Australia last week told 13 special forces soldiers they face dismissal in relation to an independent report on alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan, the head of the country’s army said on Friday.
On Monday, Zhao posted the photo to Twitter with the caption: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”
In three hours it had generated more than 2,100 interactions and been retweeted more than 1,400 times.
Zhao’s Twitter account had posted the same message on Friday, but without the fake image.
The post is the latest example of the Chinese government’s more aggressive communications with foreign countries, which analysts have termed “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
Morrison said Australia had established a “transparent and honest” process for investigating the allegations against the accused soldiers and this “is what a free, democratic, liberal country does”.
Australia had “patiently sought” to address tensions in the relationship with China and wanted direct discussion between ministers, he said.