By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The United States has called the digitally manipulated image of an Australian soldier a “new low” over a dispute between Canberra and Beijing over a tweet.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an apology after posting a picture of an Australian soldier holding a blood stained knife to the neck of an Afghan child.
The Chinese embassy said the “fury and roar” from the image of Australian politicians and the media was an exaggeration.
But other countries, including the United States, New Zealand, France and the islands of Taiwan, have expressed concern over the use of an image manipulated by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on an official Twitter account.
The US State Department on Wednesday quoted the Chinese Communist Party as saying, “The CCP’s latest attack on Australia is another example of disintegration and uncontrolled use of coercive diplomacy. Its hypocrisy is evident to all.”
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Kell Brown said the fabricated image of the soldier was “a new low for the Chinese Communist Party”.
Brown wrote in a tweet, “As the CCP disinfects spread, it covers its horrific human rights abuses, with more than one million Muslims being detained in Xinjiang.”
France’s foreign affairs spokesman said on Tuesday that the tweeted image was “particularly shocking” and that Zhao’s remarks were “disrespectful to all countries whose armed forces are currently engaged in Afghanistan”.
China’s embassy in Paris said on Wednesday that France sided with “war criminals”.
The Chinese embassy said on its website that the photograph of the soldier tweeted by Zhao was a caricature by a painter, stating that France had previously vigorously defended the right of caricature.
Morrison used the Chinese social media platform WeChat to criticize the “false image”.
In a WeChat message on Tuesday night, Morrison defended Australia’s handling of war crimes investigations in special forces action in Afghanistan, and said Australia would deal with “thorny issues” in a transparent manner.
Australia has said that 19 soldiers will be dispatched for possible criminal prosecution of the killings of unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians.
WeChat has 690,000 active daily users in Australia. Morrison’s message was read by 57,000 WeChat users as of Wednesday.
Zhao’s tweet, pinned at the top of his Twitter account, was “liked” by 55,000 followers, with Twitter labeling it as sensitive content but rejecting the Australian government’s request to remove the image.
Twitter is blocked in China, but used by Chinese diplomats who have adopted the militant “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” strategy this year.
China imposed a dumping tariff of up to 200% on Australian wine imports on Friday, effectively closing the largest export market for the Australian wine industry, amid a worsening diplomatic dispute that sparked a trade revolt imposed by China Have seen a serious case.
A group of MPs from 19 countries have lobbied against China’s action in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and launched an Australian drinking campaign on social media for the public.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Twitter that it serves Australian wine.
(Reporting by Christie Needham; Editing by Tom Brown, Simon Cameron-Moore and Gerry Doyle)