A tweet from a Chinese official with a fake image of an Australian soldier appearing to slit a child’s throat is “truly repugnant”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The graphic image was posted on Monday by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry and shows a grinning soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of a veiled child, who is holding a lamb.
Mr Zhao wrote: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”
It was a reference to a disturbing report by Australia’s military earlier this month which found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians during the conflict in Afghanistan.
Mr Morrison said he is seeking an apology from the Chinese government, and the incident is further increasing tensions between the two nations in a relationship that was already under strain.
He said: “(It) is truly repugnant. It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”
Mr Morrison said the government had contacted Twitter asking them to take the post down.
Despite China blocking Twitter and other US social media platforms within the county, Chinese diplomats and state media have established a strong presence on them.
Mr Zhao was criticized by the US in March after tweeting a conspiracy theory that American soldiers may have brought the coronavirus to China.
He is considered a leading representative of China’s high-pitched new strain of assertive foreign relations.
Mr Morrison acknowledged there were tensions between China and Australia.
“But this is not how you deal with them,” he said.
“Australia has patiently sought to seek to address the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature way, in a responsible way, by seeking engagement at both leader and ministerial level.”
The rift between the two nations has been growing this year after the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and China has since imposed tariffs on a number of Australian exports.