China has refused to apologise for a controversial image depicting an Australia soldier cutting the throat of an Afghan child as New Zealand became the latest country to voice its criticism of the doctored picture, which was posted to social media by a foreign ministry spokesman.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said her government had conveyed its concern about the post to Beijing.
“New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” Arden told reporters on Tuesday.
“It was an unfactual post, and of course that would concern us. So that is something we have raised directly in the manner that New Zealand does when we have such concerns.”
The computer-generated image was posted on Monday by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian and includes the caption “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace.”
It appeared to be a response to the outcome of a recent inquiry in Australia, which found evidence its special forces had murdered 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan. Australia has apologised to Afghanistan over the killings, which are now the subject of a criminal investigation.
“Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable,” Zhao tweeted alongside the image.
Despite widespread global criticism, China has refused to apologise and Zhao later pinned the image to the top of his verified Twitter profile, where it has 38,700 likes and 6,655 retweets despite a “sensitive content” warning from Twitter.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology for the post, which he called “repugnant”.
However, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on Monday said that rather demand an apology for the post, Australia should be “ashamed”.
“The Australian side has been reacting so strongly to my colleague’s tweet. Why is that? Do they think that their merciless killing of Afghan civilians is justified but the condemnation of such ruthless brutality is not? Afghan lives matter!” she said.
“Shouldn’t the Australian government feel ashamed that some of its soldiers on official duty in Afghanistan committed such cruelties?”
The Global Times, a Chinese state news outlet often compared with Fox News in the United States, carried a similar message including an editorial: China’s goodwill futile with evil Australia.
Chinese media has focused on Australia’s alleged war crimes since mid-November amid deteriorating Australia-China bilateral relations.
The relationship between both countries has been tense after Australia discovered what it said were Chinese influence campaigns, and has deteriorated further since Canberra asked earlier this year for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.