US and France weigh in on bitter China-Australia tweet row over Afghanistan image but Beijing holds firm

Laura Zhou
·3-min read

More countries are weighing in on the public rift between China and Australia over a controversial tweet as tensions – which were already high because of trade bans by Beijing – continue to escalate.

Cale Brown, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, said the tweet by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian featuring a digital illustration of an Australian soldier appearing to murder a child in Afghanistan, was “another example of its unchecked use of disinformation and coercive diplomacy”.

“This is a new low, even for the Chinese Communist Party,” Brown posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday morning. “Its hypocrisy is obvious to all. While it doctors images on @Twitter to attack other nations, the CCP prevents its own citizens from reading their posts.”

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Brown said the US stood with its Australian ally.

US State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown. Photo: AFP
US State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown. Photo: AFP

“As the CCP spreads disinformation, it covers up its horrendous human rights abuses, including the detention of more than a million Muslims in Xinjiang,” Brown tweeted.

The comments by Brown came as more countries stepped in to the latest diplomatic row between China and Australia, which had already been locked in a bitter feud over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s trade restrictions on a number of Australian exports before Zhao’s tweet on Monday. There are no signs of the diplomatic conflict easing.

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The French foreign ministry also commented on Zhao’s tweet and the attached digital illustration, saying it was unworthy of diplomatic methods and an insult to all countries whose armed forces had been engaged in Afghanistan.

But the Chinese embassy in France dismissed those criticisms with a statement saying the tweet, which has been pinned to the top of Zhao’s Twitter account, contained “objective comments made based on facts, and the image he cited is a satirical digital illustration by a Chinese folk artist based on the facts”.

“Rather than condemning the war atrocities of torturing and killing civilians, the French side blamed those who denounced the atrocities of being ‘prejudiced’, ‘offensive’ and ‘insulting’,” the embassy said. “Such a statement is so offensive that one cannot help but question whether those who made such comments are on the side of the war criminals or of international justice and human conscience.

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“How can it be that a country that firmly defends the ‘right to caricature’ cannot tolerate the ‘right to caricature’ [by] young Chinese artists? What about the promised freedom of speech?” the statement said. “In the final analysis, it is a double standard that only asks what is right and not what is wrong, which is even more unconscionable.”

On Tuesday Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, said her government had directly raised concerns with China over the “unfactual” image attached to Zhao’s tweet.

In a statement released in Chinese on his official account on social media platform WeChat, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised that his government would handle problems revealed in a recent domestic war crimes inquiry in a “transparent and honest way”.

Morrison had described Zhao’s tweet containing the image as “falsified”, “repugnant” and “utterly outrageous”.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying assigned blame to the Australian side, which she said was seeking to “deflect international attention from the criticisms and condemnations on the killings of Afghanistan’s civilians by some Australian soldiers”.

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