Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a media briefing on Monday (Nov. 30), to condemn the posting of an image depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child by the Chinese foreign ministry's spokesman, Zhao Lijian.
Australia demands apology from China
Zhao posted the doctored image on Monday morning, with the caption, "Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. 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
The Australian government is demanding an apology from China for the "truly repugnant" image, said Morrison, according to Reuters.
"It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis," Morrison said.
"The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes."
Australian elite forces allegedly killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners unlawfully
Australian elite forces had allegedly killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners unlawfully according to an official report, and was referred to as "possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history", CNN reported.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) reported that 13 special forces soldiers suspected of being accessories or witnesses to the killings, or of being dishonest in testifying will be fired.
Afghanistan called the murders unforgiveable, but welcomed last week's report as a step towards justice, reported BBC.
Deteriorating bilateral relations
Australia and China's relationship have been steadily deteriorating since Australia called for an international inquiry over the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In May, China imposed a ban on the import of Australian beef, and issued a travel warning to Chinese students in June to "think carefully" about studying in Australia, citing "several racist incidents".
On Nov. 27, China slapped devastating tariffs of up to 212.1 per cent on Australian wine imports, which the Australian government called an unjustified move that had diplomatic motivations, reported The Guardian.
A nation dependent on China
Bloomberg has described Australia as the "most China-dependent developed nation", indicating that any breakdown in relations between the countries could severely affect the Australian economy.
According to an ABC News report from 2019, a third of Australia's exports are shipped to China.
Between 2017 and 2018, China was also Australia's largest trading partner contributing more imports and exports than Australia's second and third largest trading partners combined (Japan and the United States).
In the same period, Chinese tourism to Australia was worth more than a quarter of Australia's entire tourism market.
Top image via Zhao Lijian/Twitter