China’s foreign ministry has rejected calls from the Australian prime minister to apologize over an inflammatory tweet over war crimes allegations, insisting it is Australia that should be saying sorry for the loss of life in Afghanistan.
China posts fake image of Australian soldier threatening an Afghan child
China is deepening its spat with Australia, refusing to apologize after a government official posted an altered image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a young Afghan boy’s throat. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had asked for an apology; instead, a Chinese government representative excoriated Australia for its troops’ alleged brutality in Afghanistan, according to NPR.
“The Australian side has been reacting so strongly to my colleague’s tweet,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a briefing Monday. “Why is that? Do they think that their merciless killing of Afghan civilians is justified but the condemnation of such ruthless brutality is not? Afghan lives matter!”
Hua was referring to a tweet by Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson known for his controversial statements, in which Zhao posted the heavily manipulated image and wrote, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
Zhao pinned the message to the top of his Twitter feed; the social media company has obscured the image with a warning that it contains “potentially sensitive content,” but it did not remove the tweet, as Morrison says he requested.
Australia’s demand to apologize and China’s refusal
As the photo was tweeted, Canberra has accused Beijing of sharing a “repugnant” and fake image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodstained knife to the throat of an Afghan child in a considerable escalation of diplomatic tensions.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Morrison said that the tweet was “deeply offensive to every Australian,” including those who have served in uniform, adding that the Chinese government should be “utterly ashamed” of the post.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” said Mr. Morrison. “Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we are seeking it be removed from Twitter”, Fobes quoted.
Earlier, Morrison told reporters in Canberra: “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defense forces and the men and women who have served in that uniform for over 100 years. There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia, but this is not how you deal with them”, according to Guardian.
Morrison’s call for an apology was quickly dismissed by Beijing. The tweet, as commented by Financial Times, was the latest salvo to be fired in a diplomatic and trade dispute that erupted after Canberra demanded an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan
According to the Parliament of Australia, Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan started in 2001, as Australia’s ‘military contribution to the international campaigns against terrorism’, which includes Australia’s participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The current authorized strength deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Slipper is around 1550 personnel, currently Australia’s largest international deployment anywhere in the world.
Since 2001, Australian forces have suffered 38 combat deaths as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. As of 6 September 2012, 240 Australian Defence Force members have been wounded in action in Afghanistan.