The Canadian government is condemning China for circulating a doctored image of an Australian soldier, adding its voice to international backlash over the incident.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian posted the digitally altered picture of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child on Twitter on Nov. 30, amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.
“We were shocked to see the fabricated image posted by a Chinese government official,” Syrine Khoury, the press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said in a statement on Dec. 3.
“The dissemination of such inflammatory material and disinformation is beneath the standards of proper diplomatic conduct.”
The comments mark the first time Canada has spoken out on behalf of Australia since a simmering diplomatic rift between Beijing and Canberra erupted after Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of the virus outbreak and the Chinese regime’s handling of it. China has since imposed punishing tariffs on a number of Australian exports.
Several countries including the United States, Britain, France, and New Zealand condemned the tweet this week, which took aim at alleged abuses by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan and called for the soldiers to be held accountable for the “murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government, which it has not received to date. China’s foreign affairs ministry instead doubled down, accusing Australia of “hypocrisy” for criticizing China’s human rights record.
On Dec. 1, Morrison took to the popular messaging app WeChat in efforts to appeal directly to Australia’s Chinese community, saying the dispute did not “diminish our respect for and appreciation of our Chinese Australian community” and “friendship with the people of China.” However, WeChat censored and deleted the post on the grounds it “violates” regulations and could distort historical events and confuse the public.
On Dec. 3, the dispute seemed to cool as Morrison told reporters in Canberra that his aim was for the two countries to have a “happy coexistence.” He added Australia had made its views very clear on the tweet.
With files from The Associated Press