Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lijian Zhao posted a fabricated image on Sunday depicting an Australian soldier holding a bloodied combat knife under a child’s throat, in reference to alleged war crimes involving Australian troops in Afghanistan. The image prompted backlash from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who called the faked image a “terrible slur” on Australia’s military and demanded an apology.
Zhao tweeted on Sunday with the faked image, saying, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable. pic.twitter.com/GYOaucoL5D
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) November 30, 2020
In the picture, the soldier and the child can be seen standing over an Australian flag and a floor made of Afghan flag-colored puzzle pieces. At the bottom of the image, a caption reads, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Prime Minister Morrison called Zhao’s tweet “truly repugnant” and said, “It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform, every Australian who serves in that uniform today, everyone who has pulled on that uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation, that they have done that. It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever.”
Morrison also said, “The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. I want to make a couple of points about this. Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese Government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately. It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who have served in that uniform for over 100 years.”
The Australian Prime Minister went on to say, “Where there are alleged events that have taken place that require action, well we have set up the honest and transparent processes for that to take place. That is what a free, democratic, liberal country does. Few countries around the world, I suppose, would have dealt with this in the way that we have. I would hope there’d be many. But in a liberal democracy, this is how you deal with issues such as this. You don’t engage in disinformation and the ugliness that we’ve seen in this post on the Chinese Government Twitter account today.”
Zhao’s tweet comes after a recently published Australian Defence Force (ADF) investigation of alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan. Among the allegations were claims described to investigators that Australian soldiers slit the throats of two 14-year-old Afghan boys, though the investigation did not substantiate those specific claims.
The ADF investigation did, however, find “credible information” regarding allegations 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
Following the ADF report, the Australian military announced administrative action for 13 individuals in relation to the investigation, though none have been separated from the Australian military at this time. The Australian military described its administrative action as “a long-standing, well-established process within Defence that ensures the rights of individuals to due process and fair hearing.”
Zhao has shared other controversial claims on his official Chinese government-sanctioned Twitter account. In March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world, Zhao suggested the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was brought to China by U.S. soldiers, instead of the widely held assessment that the disease originated in Wuhan, China.