China’s foreign ministry has denied manufacturing fake pictures of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child in a bizarre press conference.
A furious Scott Morrison has demanded an apology over the images posted by foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday.
Another foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, speaking at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday has denied the images are doctored.
In a rambling speech, she made outrageous accusations about the nation, and questioning whether the images are fake at all.
This image, shared online by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, is what first sparked the latest diplomatic row – falsely showing an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat
‘So, how could people from Australia and U.S. accuse China of fabricating pictures and spreading fake information? Are these fake?’ the spokesperson said.
‘Australia showed that their goal is to protect their value. I want to raise a question – what is the value that Australia wants to protect?’
‘Do the released and proven crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan fit their value? Australian solders killed innocent citizens and children, and yet does not allow others to comment and criticize on it. Is this fitting of Australia’s value?’
The United States called China’s use of the digitally manipulated image a ‘new low’ in disinformation.
Morrison took to WeChat on Tuesday to criticise the ‘false image’, while offering praise to Australia’s Chinese community.
China has slapped tariffs on several Australian exports, including wine, barley and beef (pictured, an advertisement for Australian beef on the streets of Beijing on November 23)
Another foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (pictured) speaking at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday has denied the images are doctored after multiple countries condemned the move
In his message, Morrison defended Australia’s handling of a war crimes investigation into the actions of special forces in Afghanistan, and said Australia would deal with ‘thorny issues’ in a transparent manner.
But that message appeared to be blocked by Wednesday evening, with a note appearing from the ‘Weixin Official Accounts Platform Operation Center’ saying the content was unable to be viewed because it violated regulations, including distorting historical events and confusing the public.
Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, did not respond to a request for comment.
Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to ‘blood’ them for combat, a four-year investigation found.
Australia said last week that 19 current and former soldiers would be referred for potential criminal prosecution.
Australian plans to take China to the World Trade Organisation over ‘politically motivated’ tariff increases (pictured, Chinese President Xi Jinping left and Prime Minister Scott Morrison right)
China’s embassy has said the ‘rage and roar’ from Australian politicians and media over the soldier image was an overreaction.
Australia was seeking to ‘deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers’, it said.
Other nations, including the United States, New Zealand and France – and the self-ruled island of Taiwan which China claims as its own – have expressed concern at the Chinese foreign ministry’s use of the manipulated image on an official Twitter account.
China has been increasingly taxing Australian imports including a 200 per cent tariff on Australian wine – warning that Australia is economically dependent on the Asian giant.
‘The CCP’s latest attack on Australia is another example of its unchecked use of disinformation and coercive diplomacy. Its hypocrisy is obvious to all,’ the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Jake Sullivan, tapped as national security adviser in the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, tweeted support for Australia without reference to China.
‘America will stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Australia and rally fellow democracies to advance our shared security, prosperity, and values,’ he wrote.
France’s foreign affairs spokesman said on Tuesday the tweeted image was ‘especially shocking’ and the comments by Zhao ‘insulting for all countries whose armed forces are currently engaged in Afghanistan’.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao (pictured) posted a doctored image of showing a grinning Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child
The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the communist government, shared another image depicting the Australian prime minister in a war zone, pointing at a child screaming ‘apologise!’
Chinese media has warned that Australia is ‘economically dependent on China’. Pictured: Australian-made wine in Beijing
China’s embassy in Paris hit back on Wednesday, saying the soldier image was a caricature, adding that France has previously loudly defended the right to caricature.
It was an apparent reference to France’s row with the Muslim world over its defence of the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
WeChat has 690,000 active daily users in Australia, and in September told an Australian government inquiry it would prevent foreign interference in Australian public debate through its platform.
Morrison’s message had been read by 57,000 WeChat users by Wednesday.
Zhao’s tweet, pinned to the top of his Twitter account, had been ‘liked’ by 60,000 followers, after Twitter labelled it as sensitive content but declined Canberra’s request to remove the image.
Twitter is blocked in China, but has been used by Chinese diplomats.
The Global Times newspaper said Beijing can easily replace Australian wine and other products like barley (pictured) – which have been hit with heavy tariffs in recent months
How China’s feud with Australia has escalated
2019: Australian intelligence services conclude that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on Australia’s parliament and three largest political parties in the run-up to a May election.
April 2020: Australian PM Scott Morrison begins canvassing his fellow world leaders for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain and France are initially reluctant but more than 100 countries eventually back an investigation.
April 15: Morrison is one of the few leaders to voice sympathy with Donald Trump’s criticisms of the World Health Organization, which the US president accuses of bias towards China.
April 21: China’s embassy accuses Australian foreign minister Peter Dutton of ‘ignorance and bigotry’ and ‘parroting what those Americans have asserted’ after he called for China to be more transparent about the outbreak.
April 23: Australia’s agriculture minister David Littleproud calls for G20 nations to campaign against the ‘wet markets’ which are common in China and linked to the earliest coronavirus cases.
April 26: Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye hints at a boycott of Australian wine and beef and says tourists and students might avoid Australia ‘while it’s not so friendly to China’. Canberra dismisses the threat and warns Beijing against ‘economic coercion’.
May 11: China suspends beef imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors. These account for more than a third of Australia’s $1.1billion beef exports to China.
May 18: The World Health Organization backs a partial investigation into the pandemic, but China says it is a ‘joke’ for Australia to claim credit. The same day, China imposes an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. Australia says it may challenge this at the WTO.
May 21: China announces new rules for iron ore imports which could allow Australian imports – usually worth $41billion per year – to be singled out for extra bureaucratic checks.
June 5: Beijing warns tourists against travelling to Australia, alleging racism and violence against the Chinese in connection with Covid-19.
June 9: China’s Ministry of Education warns students to think carefully about studying in Australia, similarly citing alleged racist incidents.
June 19: Australia says it is under cyber-attack from a foreign state which government sources say is believed to be China. The attack has been targeting industry, schools, hospitals and government officials, Morrison says.
July 9: Australia suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offers to extend the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers who are already in Australia over China’s national security law which effectively bans protest.
August 18: China launches 12-month anti-dumping investigation into wines imported from Australia in a major threat to the $6billion industry.
August 26: Prime Minster Scott Morrison announces he will legislate to stop states and territories signing deals with foreign powers that go against Australia’s foreign policy. Analysts said it is aimed at China.
October 13: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says he’s investigating reports that Chinese customs officials have informally told state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop Aussie coal, leaving it in ships off-shore.
November 2: Agriculture Minister David Littleproud reveals China is holding up Aussie lobster imports by checking them for minerals.
November 3: Barley, sugar, red wine, logs, coal, lobster and copper imports from Australia unofficially banned under a directive from the government, according to reports.
November 18: China releases bizarre dossier of 14 grievances with Australia.
November 30: Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao posted a doctored image showing a grinning Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child. The move outraged Australians