SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian prime minister said the fake image of an Australian soldier posted on the Twitter account of a Chinese official was “absolutely disgusting” and Canberra demanded it be removed, amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.
Scott Morrison called a media briefing to denounce the post, which depicted an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child, and said Canberra apologized from Beijing.
The Australian government has asked Twitter to delete the tweet, which was posted on Monday by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, Morrison said.
“This is absolutely outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis,” said Morrison. “The Chinese government should be very ashamed of this post. It reduces them in the eyes of the world. “
Australia’s relations with China have deteriorated since Canberra called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, China outlined a list of grievances about Australia’s foreign investment, national security and human rights policies, saying Canberra needed to improve its actions to restore bilateral ties with its biggest trading partner.
Morrison said countries around the world are watching how Beijing responds to tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.
In the latest series of trade sanctions, China announced on Friday it would impose temporary anti-dumping tariffs of up to 212.1% on wine imported from Australia, a move Canberra has called unjustified and linked to diplomatic grievances.
Australia has notified 13 special forces troops that they face dismissal in connection with an independent report of alleged extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan, the country’s army chief said on Friday.
Zhao wrote on Twitter: “Shocked by the killing of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such actions, & hold them accountable. “
Her Twitter account also posted the same message, but without fake pictures of the soldier and child, on Friday.
Morrison said Australia had established a “transparent and honest” process to investigate the allegations against accused soldiers and this “is what a free, democratic, liberal country is doing.”
Australia has been “patiently trying” to resolve tensions in relations with China and wants direct discussions between ministers, he said.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Edited by Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast.