The “repugnant” photoshopped image circulated by China of a grinning Australian soldier appearing to slit the throat of an Afghan child has been shared on social media by pro-China activists for days.
As the Prime Minister slammed China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian for sharing the fake image, the diplomatic row has prompted an official complaint and demands for an apology from China.
Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson also called the Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye to lodge an official complaint over the image, as it continued to be shared by Chinese activists on social media giant Weibo.
The fake image shows a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child who is clutching a lamb.
The Australian soldier is crouching over the flag of Afghanistan, with a blue cloth from the Australian flag covering the child’s face.
The caption on the photo reads: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plea for Twitter to take the image down it remained on display at 4.30pm on Monday, more than four hours after it sparked a major diplomatic incident.
The ABC reported on Monday that Zhao Lijian appears to have lifted the image from a Weibo post by nationalist artist “Crowd Kylin.”
The social media user was also quick to respond to the furore in Australia posting: “I heard ScoMo had a big problem with my work.”
The Prime Minister said Australia will be seeking an official apology.
“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 to recount, posted by the deputy director-general of the Ministry of foreign affairs, is truly repugnant,’’ he 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 it was shocking and shameful that an official Chinese government account had disseminated the image.
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post,’’ he said.
“It 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.
As tensions rise between Australia and China, Mr Morrison said the sickening post was not the way to deal with them.
“This type of behaviour is not good. It is not just about Australia. Countries around the world are watching us,’’ he said.
The shocking image represents a sharp escalation of tensions between Australia and China. It appears to be a reference to claims in the Crompvoets report that members of the SAS cut the throats of two 14-year-old Afghan boys.
These claims were never substantiated by the Brereton inquiry, as the final report notes.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he was shocked by the image and supported the Prime Minister’s remarks.
“It is gratuitous, it is inflammatory,” he said. “We all stand as a nation in condemning it.”