(CNN) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded the Chinese government delete a “repugnant” and “falsified image” on Twitter that appears to show an Australian soldier threatening to slit a child’s throat.
The image, set against a backdrop of the Australian and Afghan flags, was shared on Monday morning Beijing time from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian’s verified Twitter account with the caption: “Shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers.”
The spat is the latest example of souring relations between the two countries, with tensions ramping up despite China being Australia’s biggest trading partner.
Morrison said Australia wanted an apology from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had also contacted Twitter asking the social media giant to take the post down.
“It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever,” he said in a press conference Monday. “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.
“It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defense forces and the men and women who served in that uniform for over 100 years.”
CNN has contacted Twitter for comment.
The tweet comes after a long-awaited official report released on November 19 alleged that elite Australian forces killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners unlawfully in an environment where “blood lust” and “competition killings” were allegedly a norm.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has taken steps toward dismissing 13 soldiers following the report and recommended that federal police investigate 36 alleged war crimes.
ADF Chief Gen. Angus Campbell has said there had been a “warrior culture” among some members of Australia’s special forces serving in Afghanistan.
The ADF dismissed 13 soldiers following the report and recommended that federal police conduct an investigation into 36 alleged war crimes.
When asked about the tweet at a press conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused Australia of committing serious crimes in Afghanistan.
“The Australian side reacted so strongly to my colleague’s personal tweet, does it mean to show that it is reasonable for some Australian soldiers to coldly kill the innocent people in Afghanistan and it is not unreasonable for anyone to condemn this cold crime?” she said.
“What the Australian government should do is to think thoroughly, bring the perpetrators to justice, make a formal apology to the Afghan people, and solemnly promise to the international community that they will never commit this terrible crime again.”
Relations between China and Australia have been frosty for years, but they deteriorated further this year after Morrison in April called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chinese government dubbed Morrison’s proposal “political manipulation.”
Since May, lucrative Australian exports to China — including wine, barley and beef — have faced obstacles from Beijing, including high tariffs, anti-subsidy investigations and lengthy delays clearing customs.
In September, the last two reporters from Australian news organizations in China were evacuated after they were aggressively questioned by authorities over a national security case involving Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist working for Chinese state media. Earlier this month, Zhao said the Chinese government bore no blame for the breakdown in relations — instead, Australia’s “wrong moves” were the root cause of relations taking a “sharp downturn.”
In Monday’s press conference, Morrison acknowledged the “tensions” in the relationship between Australia and China, but he said the way to deal with those was with dialogue.
“I would hope that this rather awful event hopefully may lead to the type of reset where this dialogue can be restarted,” he said. “This is not how you deal with them.”