30 Nov 2020

Australia PM seeks apology for 'outrageous' fake image tweeted by Chinese government official

5:44 pm on 30 November 2020

Warning: This story contains graphic content that some readers may find upsetting.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is demanding the Chinese government delete a "repugnant" tweet attacking the Australian Defence Force in the wake of a landmark war crimes inquiry.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Photo: AFP

The Chinese government posted the extraordinary and violent fake image of an Australian soldier murdering a child, as relations between the two nations continue to spiral downwards.

China and Russia have both attacked Australia in the wake of the release of the Brereton report which found Australian special forces committed at least 39 unlawful killings during the war in Afghanistan.

Morrison said the government had reached out to the Chinese government and contacted Twitter to have the post removed.

"Australia's seeking an apology from the Chinese government for this outrageous post," he said.

"We're also seeking its removal immediately.

"It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever, the Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post."

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

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the tweet as "gratuitous" and "inflammatory".

"Australia's condemnation of this image is above politics ... and we all stand as a nation in condemning it," he said.

ABC understands that Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson has spoken to Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye about Australia's position on the tweet.

Last week China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China "strongly condemned" the soldiers' actions, and said the report "fully exposed the hypocrisy of the human rights and freedom these Western countries are always chanting".

Today Zhao dramatically intensified his attack on Australia, saying on Twitter he was "shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers."

He accompanied the tweet with the photoshopped image, which appeared to show a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of a child holding a lamb.

The child's face is covered with a blue cloth. The text beneath the photo reads: "Don't be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!"

The photo appears to be a reference to rumours that members of the SAS cut the throats of two 14-year-old Afghan boys who they suspected were Taliban sympathisers.

But those hearsay accounts were never substantiated during the four-year-long Brereton inquiry.

The shocking image seems deliberately designed to provoke anger in Australia. One Federal government source dismissed the photo as "rank propaganda".

Last week Morrison tried to reframe the debate over the bilateral relationship by praising China's economic record and urging it not to view Australia through the lens of strategic competition with the United States.

On Friday the Chinese government announced sweeping tariffs on Australian wine exports which are likely to cripple parts of the industry.

The image posted by Zhao Lijian seems to indicate that Beijing's hostility towards Australia has cemented.

One Federal government source said the fact the post was given the green light showed that Beijing was intent on displaying contempt towards Australia and would continue ramping up pressure in an attempt to extract concessions.