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Australian PM demands Chinese government apologize over doctored photo of soldier and child

Australian PM demands Chinese government apologize over doctored photo of soldier and child
© Aaron Schwartz

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology from the Chinese government after a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat was posted by a senior official.

The altered photo was posted on Twitter by Lijian Zhao, a spokesperson and deputy director general at the Chinese foreign ministry, with the caption: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”

Tensions between China and Australia have been rising, and Australia viewed the tweet as a clear provocation coming from a government that has been accused of paying little attention to criticism of its own human rights record. China has come under intense criticism from Australia and other countries for its actions cracking down on demonstrators in Hong Kong and for its treatment of the Uighur minority.

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“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,” Morrison told reporters on Sunday.

Zhao’s tweet was referencing a report released earlier this month on a four-year investigation into Australia’s special forces. The report revealed that special forces members allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

The investigation found credible information that junior soldiers were required to shoot prisoners in order to gain their first kill, a process referred to as “blooding.” The report implicated 25 Australian soldiers for the unlawful killings.

Though they have not been accused of war crimes, 23 of the incidents could be labeled as such if accepted by a jury. Nineteen current and former soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution.

CNBC noted in its report that tensions between the two countries also have been raised by Australia's support for an international inquiry into how China handled the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has imposed a trade barrier on Australian imports, including wine, in response.