The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, demanded an apology on Tuesday from the government of Australia for the latter taking offense to a falsified image, published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, depicting an Australian soldier beheading a child.
The image, published on Twitter by Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, was a reference to the results of an investigation Australia did on its own military’s activities in Afghanistan. Australia joined the war in Afghanistan in support of the United States after the jihadist attacks of September 11, 2001. The report confirmed dozens of unlawful civilian killings conducted by Australian soldiers who will face justice in Canberra.
China does not conduct similar reviews of the human rights records of its own military, despite outrageous reports of abuses in places like the Chinese-Indian border, where People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers reportedly used clubs wrapped in barbed wire to kill Indian counterparts this summer.
“Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” Zhao wrote on Twitter alongside the falsified image. “We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable. pic.twitter.com/GYOaucoL5D
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) November 30, 2020
Zhao is the Foreign Ministry’s most belligerent spokesman. Hired this year, he rose to prominence floating the conspiracy theory that e-cigarette injuries in America were secretly Chinese coronavirus cases and that the U.S. Army is responsible for the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Australian officials reacted to the image with disgust, demanding the Chinese Foreign Ministry retract it.
“Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese Government, for this outrageous post,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday. “We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately.”
Twitter has not labeled Zhao’s post as manipulated media despite Chinese officials confirming that the image is not an authentic photo of an Australian soldier killing a child.
In response, Chinese state media, administered and edited by members of the Communist Party, are demanding Australia apologize for being offended.
In a column titled “Australia, the Perpetrator, Should Truly Apologize for Scathing Crimes,” the People’s Daily asserted, “The Australian government should feel ashamed. Its demand for an apology from the Chinese side is as ironic as it is absurd.”
“What a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has done was no more than standing up against hellish human rights crimes that deserve unanimous condemnation from the international community, and speaking out for the truth and justice,” the column continued.
“The Australian government should feel guilty. In the name of fighting terrorism and promoting so-called freedom and human rights, Australia, joining some other Western countries, have waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the state propaganda arm said. “Their reckless invasions have kicked millions of people in those countries deep into the abyss of chaos and bloodshed as well as devastation and death.”
“The Australian government should be penitent. Besides an official apology to the Afghan people, the Australian government should make a solemn promise to the international community that such atrocities will never happen again, as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying urged at a regular press briefing on Monday,” the People’s Daily concluded.
The Global Times, another Chinese state-run propaganda outlet, referred to Australia as “evil” on Tuesday, threatening to tank its economy if Australia confronts China at the World Trade Organization for unethical trade policies.
“Australia now has such a rude and arrogant government and a group of political and opinion elites who don’t have a clear estimation of themselves,” an editorial from the newspaper read. “Australia’s evil acts toward China have made Chinese society not only surprised, but also disgusted. Many Chinese people feel as if they have swallowed a fly when hearing about Australia.”
The article went on to disparage Australia as “a warhound of the U.S.” and “the most savage accomplice of U.S. suppression of China.”
It went on to claim that Australian products are of poor quality, asserting that Australian timber contains “pests” and that its “lobsters have been found to have high levels of cadmium.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry itself used its daily briefing on Tuesday, led by the much more sophisticated senior spokeswoman Hua Chunying, not to attack Australia but the West in general for allegedly being “arrogant hypocrites” by committing human rights violations in Afghanistan while criticizing China’s record, arguably the world’s worst on human rights.
“This ‘I can, but you cannot’ approach reflects the attitude of those unbelievably arrogant hypocrites. Their real motive is to deprive China of the right to tell facts and truth,” Hua asserted. “They are afraid to hear that loud and clear voice — ‘Look, the emperor has no cloth [sic] on!'”
Hua also insisted that calling the doctored photo “falsified” was inaccurate because it was “a graphic created with computer techniques by a young Chinese artist. Computer-generated graphics and falsified pictures are two different things.”