New Zealand PM raises concern with Beijing over doctored image tweet

Sydney, Australia, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- New Zealand’s prime minister on Tuesday said her government has raised concerns directly with Beijing about a senior Chinese official’s tweet of a doctored image criticizing Australia.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a tweet saying: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable,” apparently referencing Canberra’s war crimes inquiry into its soldier’s alleged misconduct in Afghanistan.

The text was accompanied by 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.

New Zealand leader 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.”

“In this case an image has been used that is not factually correct [and] that is not a genuine image. So we have raised that directly with Chinese authorities,” added Ardern, who said she has not spoken about the dispute with her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison.

On Monday, the Australian leader demanded that China apologize for the publication of a “disgusting,” “outrageous” “deeply offensive” fake picture for which China should “be totally ashamed,” and asked Twitter to remove the message, although neither has happened.

Zhao Lijian’s post comes after Australia released a long-awaited report on Nov. 19, which found evidence that some of its special forces allegedly murdered 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2005 and 2016 during its deployment to Afghanistan.

Army Chief Rick Burr reported on Friday that 13 soldiers have been notified of their potential dismissal, although it is not clear if they are some of the alleged perpetrators or if they are witnesses.

The publication of 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.

Natasha Kassam, a research fellow at the Australian Lowy Institute, told national broadcaster 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. EFE-EPA


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