SYDNEY: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (Nov 30) Canberra is seeking an apology from Beijing, after a senior Chinese official posted a fake image of an Australian soldier holding a knife with blood on it to the throat of an Afghan child.
Morrison called a media briefing to condemn the posting of the image, marking another downturn in deteriorating relations between the two countries.
The Australian government has asked Twitter to remove the image, posted on Monday by China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on his official Twitter account, Morrison said.
"It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis," Morrison said. "The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes."
"This sort of conduct is not conducive to any relationship," Morrison said of the tweet, calling it an "outrageous and disgusting slur" against the Australian armed forces.
"That's why I think it's so important in our mutual interests that this egregious act be dealt with."
He said countries around the world were watching how Beijing responded to tensions in Australia's relationship with China.
AUSTRALIA SHOULD FEEL ASHAMED: CHINA
Australia last week discharged 13 soldiers following a report into conduct in Afghanistan that prosecutors believe may have constituted war crimes.
The results of a years-long investigation published in November reported that Australia's elite special forces "unlawfully killed" 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan, including by summary execution as part of initiation rituals.
It recommended that 19 individuals be referred to Australian Federal Police, compensation be paid to the families of victims, and that the military carry out a slew of reforms.
Zhao had tweeted that he was "shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable".
Asked about the tweet at a regular press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying replied: "It is the Australian government who should feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians".
The image posted by her colleague shows people's "indignation," said Hua, speaking at a regular news conference in Beijing on Monday. Whether it will be taken down is a matter between Twitter and the Australian government, she said.
She said Australia should "make a formal apology to the Afghan people", adding that "it is a fact that Australian soldiers brutally slaughtered innocent civilians in Afghanistan".
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said earlier in November that Morrison had called him personally to express his "deepest sorrow" over the allegations.
TRANSPARENT AND HONEST PROCESS FOR INVESTIGATION: MORRISON
Australia's top military officer has admitted there was credible evidence of the killings, recommending the matter be taken up by a prosecutor investigating alleged war crimes.
"Some patrols took the law into their own hands, rules were broken, stories concocted, lies told and prisoners killed," said Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell.
After the Sep 11, 2001 attacks, more than 26,000 Australian uniformed personnel were sent to Afghanistan to fight alongside US and allied forces against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Australian combat troops officially left the country in late 2013, but since then a series of often-brutal accounts have emerged about the conduct of elite special forces units.
Australia's relationship with China has deteriorated since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, China outlined a list of grievances about Australia's foreign investment, national security and human rights policy, saying Canberra needed to correct its actions to restore the bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner.
Morrison said Australia had established a "transparent and honest" process for investigating the allegations against the accused soldiers and this "is what a free, democratic, liberal country does".
Australia had "patiently sought" to address tensions in the relationship with China and wanted direct discussion between ministers, he said.