The Chinese government on Monday refused to apologize to Australia over a foreign ministry spokesman's tweet that showed Australian soldiers in poor light. A Chinese official doubled down on the spokesman's tweet highlighting Canberra's role in alleged war crimes in Afghanistan as detailed in the Brereton Report.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lijian Zhao, tweeted a fake image of an Australian soldier with a bloodied knife slitting the throat an Afghan child who is holding a lamb. The embedded text in the image read: "Don't be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!"
Zhao expressed shock over the alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan and called for holding them accountable. He also said that China "strongly" condemned the acts.
The tweet elicited a rebuke from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who demanded an apology. He said the picture was a "terrible slur" on Australian troops and slammed Beijing for the "utterly outrageous" post that "cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever."
"It is a false image, and a terrible slur on our great defense forces and the men and women who've served in that uniform for over 100 years," Morrison said, adding that he urged Twitter to take the image down.
However, Hua Chunying, director of the Chinese foreign ministry's department of information, responded rejecting the call for an apology.
"The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague's tweet - Does this mean they think the cruel killing of Afghan lives is justified? Afghan lives matter ... shouldn't the Australian soldiers feel ashamed?" Hua said. "Some Australians soldiers committed serious crimes in Afghanistan ... The details [of the Brereton Report] are shocking & appalling, including rounding up men & boys who have been shot dead or with their throats slit while blindfolded ... [the Australian government] should apologise."
Australia and China's diplomatic relations have been strained after the Morrison government called for an independent global probe into Covid-19 origins and handling. However, Beijing objected to the move and the talks between the two countries have remained frozen.
The Brereton War Crimes Report
A four-year-long official investigation led by Australia's Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Brereton found that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 civilians and prisoners when they were deployed in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. The findings revealed the Australian Defence Force covered up the murders that began in 2009.
Following the report's release, the Australian government and the army apologized to Afghanistan. Morrison assigned a special investigator to help carry out likely prosecutions against those involved in the killings.
Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the details of the report made her "physically ill."
"I was like every other Australian who watched that; I was totally and utterly shocked and mortified," she said on Nov. 20. "I got the report two weeks ago and it made me physically ill."
Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said the findings did not "represent our values as a nation." He also said that he would accept all recommendations made in the report.
"But if you look at it the other way, the fact is we have faced up to this because it doesn't represent our values as a nation, it does not represent the values of the Australian Defence Force, and we have to tackle it, but to tackle it we have to be honest and it has to be transparent."