• A doctored image shows an Australian soldier with a knife to a child’s neck
  • It was posted online by a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry
  • Bilateral ties have soured over the course of the year

China’s image on the international stage is diminished by the distribution of a doctored image showing an Australian soldier with a knife to the throat of an Afghan child, Australia’s prime minister said Monday.

Lijan Zhao, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, posted the doctored image on Twitter with a caption accusing the Australian military of murdering Afghan civilians.

In a Monday press conference, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was seeking an apology from the Chinese government and called on Twitter to remove what he said was a false image.

“The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post,” he said. “It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”

The post from the Chinese official follows an investigation that found Australian special forces in Afghanistan allegedly killed 39 unarmed civilians and prisoners between 2005 and 2016. The Reuters news agency published details of the report on Nov. 18, quoting Australian Gen. Angus John Campbell as saying all of the deaths were “unlawful” and occurred off the battlefield.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that Morrison expressed his “deepest sorrow” for the incidents, Reuters added.

The acrimony between Australia and China has increased this year over cybersecurity issues. China reacted by targeting Australian exports after Morrison’s government joined a multilateral inquiry looking at China’s handling of the pandemic. Last week, the Chinese government hit Australian wine exports with punitive tariffs of up to 212%, essentially closing off a U.S. $1 billion market.

An op-ed in China’s official Xinhua news agency accused Australia of “blatant” violations of international norms.

“There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia,” Morrison commented on the offensive tweet. “But this is not how you deal with them.”

Scott Morrison Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed a Chinese list of grievances, promising to defend his country's national interests. Photo: POOL / Gary Ramage