(Update 1: adds information from Chinese embassy in Canberra, rewrites and edits throughout)
Sydney, Australia, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- The Chinese embassy in Canberra on Tuesday accused the Australian government of wanting to divert attention from its Afghanistan war crimes inquiry with an “overreaction” to a contentious tweet posted by a senior Chinese official in Beijing.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a tweet with a manipulated image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of a veiled and barefoot child clinging to a lamb. The ground and lifeless bodies are covered by the Australian flag and the Afghan flag is made of puzzle pieces.
Hours later, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded that China apologize for the publication of a “repugnant,” “outrageous” and “deeply offensive” fake picture for which China should “be totally ashamed,” and asked Twitter to remove it, although neither has happened.
A statement posted to the Chinese embassy’s website Tuesday said that “the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr. Zhao’s tweet.”
“The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism,” the statement added.
It also said that an Australian foreign affairs official called Ambassador Cheng Jingye on Monday to complain about the tweet, but the Chinese diplomat “refuted the unwarranted accusations as absolutely unacceptable.”
Zhao’s Twitter post came after Australia released a long-awaited report last week that recommended that 19 soldiers be referred for criminal investigation over the alleged murder of 39 civilians outside of combat operations in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
Politicians and the media from various sectors of the Australia also criticized the tweet, with the Labor Party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong telling national broadcaster ABC that Australia must “respond calmly and strategically” to what she considered “a deliberate provocation.”
The senator said Australia needs to work with international partners so that the “standards of behavior we want for the region and the world” are enforced, and suggested that the president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, could help improve relations with the Asian giant.
Natasha Kassam, a research fellow at the Australian Lowy Institute, told ABC that the tweet is part of a campaign by Chinese diplomats increasingly turning to Western social media networks to attack other countries.
“There are hundreds of them, that spend a lot of their time bickering with Western officials, promoting conspiracies about the coronavirus and often calling out what they perceive to be human rights abuses in other countries,” Kassan said.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters Tuesday that “New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image. It was an unfactual post, and of course that would concern us.”
The tweet has worsened the already deteriorated relations between Beijing and Canberra, whose countries have a huge trade exchange but clash on several political and ideological fronts. EFE-EPA