'Should be ashamed': China hits back after PM's fury
A Chinese official has delivered a stinging response to demands for an apology over a shocking faked photograph of an Australian soldier.
This evening, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying delivered a statement, broadcast on ABC news, doubling down on the disturbing image posted by her colleague.
"Some Australian soldiers committed serious crimes in Afghanistan," she said. "The details are appalling and shocking including men and boys who were shot dead all with their throats slit while blindfolded.
"There are stories about two 14-year-old boys whose throats were slit and their bodies were thrown into a recruit and recruits were told to kill prisoners in a practise known as blooding.
"These cruel crimes have been condemned by the international community."
It's important to point out that the allegations of throat slitting - presented as fact by Ms Hua - could not be substantiated in the Australian government's Brereton Report.
She continued by saying Australian anger over the tweet was misplaced.
"The Australian side has reacted so strongly to my colleague's Twitter, does that mean that they think the cold blood murder of Afghan innocent civilians is justified while other people's condemnation of such crimes are not justified?" she said.
"Afghan lives matter. The Australian government should bring the culprits to justice and offer an official apology to the Afghan people and make the solemn pledge that they will never repeat such crimes.
"They said that the Chinese government should feel ashamed. It is Australian soldiers who committed such cruel crimes. Shouldn't the Australian government feel ashamed? Shouldn't they feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians?"
It comes just hours after the editor-in-chief of Chinese state media outlet The Global Times Hu Xinjin warned that Scott Morrison can forget about an apology.
In the first public response to the Prime Minister's fury, the Chinese Government appointed editor said Australian soldiers were responsible for "murders".
"It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Force's brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians," he wrote on Twitter.
"On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesman of Chinese FM? It's ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologise."
It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Forces ’s brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians. On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM? It’s ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologize. pic.twitter.com/QkBSXyf1uY— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 30, 2020
It comes hours after Mr Morrison demanded an official apology from China for the posting of what he called an "offensive" and "outrageous" and "deplorable" image.
The PM called an unscheduled press conference this afternoon to respond to the image which was posted on an official Chinese Government account over alleged "war crimes" in Afghanistan.
"The post made today, the repugnant post made today of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child with a knife, a post made on an official Chinese government account, posted by the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is truly repugnant,'' the Prime Minister said.
"It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform, every Australian who serves in that uniform today.
"Everyone who has pulled on a uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation, that they have done that. It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever."
The Prime Minister said the fact that it was posted on an official Chinese government account was "shameful."
"The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post,'' he said.
The diplomatic row worsened this afternoon when Foriegn Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson picked up the phone for what would have been an incredibly uncomfortable phone call.
Ms Adamson contacted Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye to pass on the PM's condemnation in a move that highlights how divided the two nations have become.
BREAKING: Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson has spoken to Chinese Ambassador Jingye in the last 15 minutes to relay Australia’s position on Zhao Lijian’s dreadful tweet.— Andrew Probyn (@andrewprobyn) November 30, 2020
The Prime Minister was asked: "If this is allowed to fester, at what stage will you pick up the phone to speak to President Xi Jinping?"
Mr Morrison said he had made attempts to contact China but had been unsuccessful.
"We have consistently sought those engagements … this has been a constant process of Australia remaining open … and that is why I renew that call today. Australia is available for that and has always been available for that, and Australia has sought to arrange that."
The PM told reporters China's actions "diminishes them in the world's eyes".
"I want to make a couple of points about this. Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of foreign affairs, from the Chinese government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately.
"It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who have served in that uniform for over 100 years."
As trade tensions continue to rise between Australia and China, Mr Morrison said the sickening post was not the way forward.
"There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia, but this is not how you deal with them,'' he said.
"Australia has patiently sought to address the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature way, in a responsible way, by seeking engagement at both leader and ministerial level to ensure that we can openly discuss what are clear sources of tension in this relationship.
"I would ask again and call on China to re engage in that dialogue. This is how countries must deal with each other, to ensure that we can deal with any issues in our relationship consistent with our national interests and respect for each other's sovereignty, not engaging in this sort of deplorable behaviour.
"So today is not a day for Australia, in any way, to feel strongly about how we conduct ourselves, even with this difficult information to deal with, we are dealing with it in the right way."
The horrific doctored image was posted on Monday on the official Twitter account of China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao.
"Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers," he said. "We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable."
The remarks are a reference to the release of a damning defence report that found "credible evidence" of the alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 special forces troops.
The row comes as debate rages in Australia over the Defence Force chief's plan to revoke military honours for 3000 special forces troops.
General Campbell had argued there is "a collective responsibility" for the alleged crimes.
"I have accepted the Inspector-General's recommendation and will write to the Governor-General requesting he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013," the General said.
"While necessary, I appreciate that these latter decisions will be a bitter blow for many."
However, a public backlash is growing with a petition from a leading veteran's support group, opposing the revoking of citations, now gathering more than 50,000 signatures.
The Prime Minister signalled on Friday it may not be a done deal, suggesting the final decision had not been made.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has also issued a blunt warning to the Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell to get his "head out of his arse" over his call to strip 3,000 soldiers who served in Afghanistan
"If General Campbell has not felt the bitch-slap from all those millions of Australians out there, he needs to pull his head out of his arse,'' she said.
Senator Lambie was one of the first MPs to question the decision to strip the meritorious citation from all soldiers when the Brereton report was released on November 19.
"It's heartbreaking stuff. But one recommendation I can't support is stripping the whole of Special Operations Task Group 66 of the Meritorious Unit Citation,'' she said.
"One of the things that makes these allegations so disturbing is that we hold ourselves in Australia to a higher standard. We're proud that we play by the rules - even when we're fighting those that refuse to do the same.
"Sticking up for the rule of law, even when it's inconvenient, is what makes us different. And stripping these blokes of an award for their good deeds, over an allegation that some of them have done the wrong thing, is a total breach of that standard.
"You're innocent until proven guilty. Everybody is entitled to that right. And I can't get behind a recommendation that says these guys aren't entitled to it any more than I am, or you are."
News.com.au has contacted the Foreign Affairs Ministers office for comment.