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World

Backing Australia, U.S. State Dept says China hit 'new low' with doctored image

  • The United States has called China’s use of a digitally manipulated image of an Australian soldier a “new low”, weighing in on the dispute between Canberra and Beijing over the tweet.
02 Dec 2020

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The United States has called China’s use of a digitally manipulated image of an Australian soldier a “new low”, weighing in on the dispute between Canberra and Beijing over the tweet.

China has rebuffed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s calls for an apology after its foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted the picture of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child on Monday.

China’s embassy said the “rage and roar” from Australian politicians and media over the image was an overreaction.

But other nations, including the United States, New Zealand, France, and the island of Taiwan, have expressed concern at the Chinese foreign ministry’s use of the manipulated image on an official Twitter account.

“The CCP’s latest attack on Australia is another example of its unchecked use of disinformation and coercive diplomacy. Its hypocrisy is obvious to all,” the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown said the fabricated image of the soldier was “a new low, even for the Chinese Communist Party”.

“As the CCP spreads disinformation, it covers up its horrendous human rights abuses, including the detention of more than a million Muslims in Xinjiang,” Brown wrote in a tweet.

France’s foreign affairs spokesman said on Tuesday the tweeted image was “especially shocking” and the comments by Zhao “insulting for all countries whose armed forces are currently engaged in Afghanistan”.

China’s embassy in Paris hit back on Wednesday, saying France had sided with “war criminals”.

The Chinese embassy said on its website the soldier image tweeted by Zhao was a caricature by a painter, adding that France had previously loudly defended the right to caricature.

Morrison used Chinese social media platform WeChat to criticise the “false image”.

In a WeChat message on Tuesday night, Morrison defended Australia’s handling of a war crimes investigation into the actions of special forces in Afghanistan, and said Australia would deal with “thorny issues” in a transparent manner.

Australia has said 19 soldiers would be referred for potential criminal prosecution over the killings of unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians.

WeChat has 690,000 active daily users in Australia. Morrison’s message had been read by 57,000 WeChat users by Wednesday.

Zhao’s tweet, pinned to the top of his Twitter account, had been “liked” by 55,000 followers, after Twitter labelled it as sensitive content but declined the Australian government’s request to remove the image.

Twitter is blocked in China, but has been used by Chinese diplomats who have adopted combative “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” tactics this year.

China on Friday imposed dumping tariffs of up to 200% on Australian wine imports, effectively shutting off the largest export market for the Australian wine industry, amid a worsening diplomatic dispute that has seen a serious of trade reprisals imposed by China.

A group of parliamentarians from 19 countries that has lobbied against China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang campaigned on social media for the public to drink Australian wine.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Twitter it would serve Australian wine.