WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand has joined Australia in denouncing a graphic tweet posted by a Chinese official that shows a fake image of a smiling Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to his throat ‘a kid.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that New Zealand had raised its concerns directly to Chinese authorities.
“It’s an image that was not factual. It was not correct. And so, in keeping with our principled position where images like these are used, we’re going to raise those concerns and we’ll do it directly, ”Ardern told reporters.
China did not back down on the tweet and said there would be no excuses.
Ardern’s criticism was more subdued than that of Australia. She was faced with a difficult choice of how far to get involved in a conflict between New Zealand’s closest ally, Australia, and its biggest trading partner, China.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called the image “disgusting” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. The post targeted allegations of abuse by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.
The incident further exacerbates already strained relations between Australia and China.
The image, which appeared to show the soldier slitting the child’s throat, was posted by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry. He wrote a caption with his tweet: “Shocked by the killing of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn these acts and call for them to be held accountable. ”
He was referring to a disturbing report by the Australian military earlier this month which found evidence that Australian elite troops illegally killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians during the conflict in Afghanistan. The report recommended that 19 soldiers be referred to the federal police for criminal investigation.
Asked about the matter during a daily briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying blamed the Australian side.
“What Australia should do is think deeply, bring the perpetrators to justice, issue a formal apology to the Afghan people and make a solemn promise to the international community that it will never again commit such terrible crimes,” Hua said.
Morrison said Zhao’s tweet was “absolutely outrageous” and a terrible insult to the Australian military.
It is really disgusting. It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in this uniform, ”he told reporters in Canberra. “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the eyes of the world. “
Morrison said his government contacted Twitter to ask him to delete the post. The message had a warning label Tuesday but could still be viewed. Zhao’s account comes with a Twitter tag indicating that it is a Chinese government account.
Although China is blocking Twitter and other U.S. social media platforms in the county, Chinese diplomats and state media have established a strong presence on them.
Zhao was criticized by the United States in March after he tweeted a conspiracy theory that American soldiers may have brought the coronavirus to China. He is considered one of the main representatives of China’s sharp new trend in assertive foreign relations.
Morrison acknowledged that there were tensions between China and Australia.
“But that’s not how you manage them,” he said. “Australia has patiently sought to resolve the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature, responsible manner, seeking commitment from both leadership and ministerial levels.”
The rift between the two countries has widened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China has since imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a number of Australian exports.