China strikes back at Australian fury over war crime tweet

Kinling Lo
·3-min read

A war of words between Australia and China has intensified, with the Chinese foreign ministry refusing to remove a tweet featuring a meme-like illustration of an Australian soldier appearing to murder a child.

The image was posted on Twitter on Monday morning by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, accompanied by the text: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she stood by her subordinate Zhao over the post, which drew an immediate and furious response from Canberra. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also demanded the removal of the tweet.

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“Australia has already confirmed that their soldiers have committed serious war crimes in Afghanistan ... The details are shocking and their brutal behaviour has been strongly condemned by the international community,” Hua said.

“Australia has shown a strong response to my colleague ... and said the Chinese government should feel ashamed. Shouldn’t Australia feel ashamed for sending their soldiers to commit such atrocities and killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan?”

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Asked whether the tweet should be deleted, Hua said it was between Twitter and Australia. She also asked for China’s comments not to be perceived as a result of the downward spiral in Sino-Australian relations.

Twitter has not responded to an email inquiry from the South China Morning Post. The tweet has been pinned to the top of Zhao’s tweets.

The Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, has been summoned for a meeting with Australian officials, while Morrison also said Canberra’s embassy in China would make representations.

In a press conference shortly after the tweet was posted, Morrison described the tweet as “falsified”, “repugnant” and “utterly outrageous”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted the image. Photo: Reuters
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted the image. Photo: Reuters

Zhao’s tweet was referring to a war crimes inquiry finding earlier this month that Australian troops had killed civilians in Afghanistan. China and Russia have condemned Canberra over the Brereton report and called the Australian government hypocritical.

The report found evidence Australian special forces committed at least 39 unlawful killings during the Afghanistan war in 2009-2013.

Morrison said his government had reached out to Beijing and contacted Twitter to have the post removed. “Australia is seeking an apology from the Chinese government for this outrageous post,” he said. “We’re also seeking its removal immediately.”

Morrison said the tweet could not be justified “on any basis whatsoever” and said the Chinese government should be “totally ashamed” of the post.

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“There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia, but this is not how you deal with them,” he added.

Sino-Australia relations have been in an intense downward spiral. Trade has been the most serious focus lately, with China taking a range of informal actions on a series of Australian products, including coal, timber, cotton, beef and wine.

Zhao has become known for heated confrontations on Twitter with China’s critics. He earlier insinuated the US military may be responsible for the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first cases were reported.

This article China strikes back at Australian fury over war crime tweet first appeared on South China Morning Post

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