Australia's prime minister has demanded an apology for a fake image tweeted by a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official. The doctored image shows an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child's throat.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said a fake image that was tweeted by a high-ranking Chinese official was "truly repugnant."
Morrison called a media briefing specifically to condemn the posting of the picture, which shows an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of a veiled Afghan child carrying a lamb in her arms.
"It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis," Morrison said. "The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes."
Morrison described the image as being "deeply offensive to every Australian." He said he had reached out to Twitter and Chinese authorities for the immediate removal of the post.
The digitally altered post came from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Monday.
"Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers," Zhao tweeted alongside the image.
Responses that came to the tweet from those springing to Australia's defense referred to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the repression and persecution of Muslims in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Zhao's comments follow the release earlier this month of a damning report into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016.
A four-year inquiry found that there was "credible information" to substantiate claims that Australian soldiers unlawfully killed 39 prisoners and civilians.
Morrison said Australia had established a "transparent and honest" process for investigating the allegations. He said this "is what a free, democratic, liberal country does."
Australia had "patiently sought" to address tensions in the relationship with China, said Morrison, adding that he wanted direct discussion between ministers.
Washington criticized Zhao in March over his tweet about a conspiracy theory that US soldiers may have taken the coronavirus to China. He is considered a leading representative of Beijing's new assertive approach to foreign relations.
A rift between the two nations has deepened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, China has imposed tariffs and other restrictions on certain Australian exports.
rc/dr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)