Australia has demanded China apologise for posting a fake picture on a government Twitter account that depicted an Australian soldier murdering an Afghan child.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Beijing should be “utterly ashamed” for sharing the “repugnant” image.
It comes amid escalating political tensions between the two countries.
The image referred to alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers – murders of Afghan civilians and prisoners.
Earlier this month, a report found “credible information” that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
The findings from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) inquiry sparked widespread condemnation, and are now being investigated by police.
What caused the outrage?
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao posted a fabricated image which portrayed an Australian soldier with a bloody knife next to a child. The child is seen holding a lamb.
The image appears to be a reference to previously reported allegations that elite Australian soldiers used knives to murder two 14-year-old Afghan boys. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported the ADF report did not substantiate those allegations.
However it did find “credible evidence” of unlawful killings and a “warrior culture” within elite units. The allegations included that junior soldiers were encouraged to shoot prisoners for their first kill.
Mr Zhao’s tweet said: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, and call for holding them accountable.”
How did Australia respond?
Australia has requested Twitter remove the post from its platform, describing it as “disinformation”. Mr Morrison described the post as “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous”.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” he said. “It is a false image and terrible slur on our defence forces.”
He added that Australia had established a transparent process to investigate the alleged war crimes, as was expected of a “democratic, liberal” country,
Mr Morrison went on to acknowledge that there are “undoubtedly” tensions between the two nations, but said: “This is not how you deal with it.”
He warned Beijing that other countries around the world were watching its actions towards Australia.