Australia demands China apologise for posting 'repugnant' fake image
Scott Morrison said the post was a "shameful" and "appalling" act
Australia has asked China to apologize for posting a fake picture on a government Twitter account depicting an Australian soldier murdering an Afghan child.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Beijing should be "deeply ashamed" of sharing the "repulsive" image.
It comes amid escalating political tensions between the two countries.
The picture referred to alleged war crimes committed by some Australian soldiers.
Warning: This story contains an image that some people may find depressing.
Earlier this month, a report found "credible information" that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the killings of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
The findings of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) investigation sparked a widespread conviction and are currently under investigation by police.
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On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao released a fabricated picture portraying an Australian soldier with a bloody knife next to a child. The child holds a lamb in hand.
The image appears to be indicative of previously reported allegations that elite Australian soldiers murdered two 14-year-old Afghan boys with knives. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the ADF report did not substantiate these claims.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao published the wrong picture on Monday
However, "credible evidence" of unlawful murders and a "warrior culture" was found within the elite units. The allegations included that junior soldiers were encouraged to shoot prisoners for their first kill.
Mr. Zhao's tweet said: "Shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts and urge them to be held accountable."
Australia asked Twitter to remove the post from its platform and label it as "disinformation".
Mr Morrison described the post as "really off-putting, deeply offensive, extremely outrageous".
"The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes it in the eyes of the world," he said.
"It is a wrong picture and a terrible mistake for our defense forces."
He added that Australia had put in place a transparent process to investigate alleged war crimes, as was expected of a "democratic, liberal" country.
Mr Morrison further admitted that there is "undoubtedly" tension between the two nations but said, "This is not how you deal with it."
He warned Beijing that other countries around the world were watching their actions against Australia.
Bilateral relations have deteriorated rapidly this year after Australia called for an investigation into the root causes of the coronavirus pandemic and an ongoing discussion of Beijing's alleged interference in Australian affairs.
In the past few months, China has inflicted a series of economic blows - including trade disruptions and tariffs - on about a dozen Australian imports, including wine, barley and beef.
Australia has called China's actions "economic compulsion".
Analyzer box from Shaimaa Khalil, correspondent from Australia
This is a new low in an already very strained relationship between the two major trading partners.
Last week, Mr. Zhao said the war crimes report "fully exposed the hypocrisy of human rights and freedom that these Western countries always sing."
But his tweet shocked Scott Morrison in his most undiplomatic language yet. The prime minister said the Chinese government should be "ashamed" of the post, describing it as "outrageous and disgusting".
This is yet another indication of how dire things have got between Canberra and Beijing at a time when relations are extremely tense and Australian exporters are unsure of what other tariffs to expect in the face of the escalating spit from China.
The prime minister admitted the two countries had their problems, but that tweet went too far.
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Earlier this month, the Chinese embassy in Australia circulated a list to local media outlining 14 policy areas where Australia said it had tightened ties.
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These included Australia's decision to block Chinese investment projects, banning Chinese tech company Huawei from its 5G tender, and "ceaseless willful interference in China's affairs in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan."
Australia has announced that it will not change its political positions.
On Monday, Mr Morrison confirmed that Australia's requests for meetings with senior Chinese ministers had continued to be rejected.
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