Calling the tweet “unfactual,” Ardern told reporters on Tuesday that her administration had contacted Beijing “directly” to raise objections over the controversial image, shared on Sunday by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan.
“There is an exchange that’s happening between Australia and China, it will of course tap into spaces where, as a general principle, we may have concerns and will raise those,” the PM said.
Zhao’s tweet featured an illustration of an Australian soldier clad in combat fatigues holding a knife to the throat of a young child. “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable,” the diplomat wrote.
The post came on the heels of a bombshell war crimes report issued by Australian authorities in mid-November, which found that the country’s special forces executed dozens of civilians and non-combatants in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2014.
While military officials in Canberra have deemed the report “deeply disturbing” – with the chief of the Australian Defense Force calling its findings “damaging to our moral authority” – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denounced Zhao’s tweet as “utterly outrageous,” demanding an apology from Beijing for the “terrible slur on our great defense forces.”
China has so far refused to recant, with another Foreign Ministry representative instead calling on Morrison to bring those responsible for war crimes to “justice” and to “offer an official apology to the Afghan people.”
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?
Though Ardern voiced support for Canberra in her latest remarks, the small Pacific island nation has generally steered clear of growing divides between Australia and China, long maintaining diplomatic and economic ties with both countries. China continues to be New Zealand’s largest trading partner, seeing annual two-way trade exceeding $23.2 billion, while the country keeps close links with Australia, both belonging to the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, along with the US, UK and Canada.
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