Get Briefed: Why Australia & China Are Stoushing Over A Tweet

Australia is currently arguing with its top trading partner. Allow us to explain why.

This is MTV Australia's third 'Get Briefed': MTV giving you the information you need to know, but… briefly.

Content warning: This story contains the discussion of an image that people might find distressing.

If you've heard that Australia and China are currently exchanging barbs over a doctored image posted to Twitter, we regretfully inform you that you're correct. Instead of opening a million tabs to try and get a handle on what the hell is going on, allow us to lay out everything you need to know below.

A Chinese Official Posts A Super Graphic Photo To Twitter

On Monday, Chinese foreign military official Lijian Zhao (apparently known for controversial statements) posted a graphic, doctored photo to Twitter. The image shows a grinning Australian soldier threatening a young child with a bloodied knife to his throat, including the caption: "Don't be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!" (We won't embed the tweet, but if you want to see it you can view it here).

The image is a reference to the horrors of the Brereton report, which details war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. Horrifyingly, the report included allegations that elite members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) used knives to murder two 14-year-old Afghan boys. The report also found "credible evidence" of unlawful killings and a "warrior culture" in the higher echelons of the ADF.

Zhao wrote in his tweet: "Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, and call for holding them accountable."

Morrison Tries To Get The Photo Removed, Asks Chinese Government To Apologise

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he contacted both the Chinese Government and Twitter itself in an attempt to have the photo removed. "Australia's seeking an apology from the Chinese Government for this outrageous post," he said, according to the ABC. "We're also seeking its removal immediately". He added: "There are undoubtedly tensions that exist between China and Australia, but this is not how you deal with them."

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese supported the PM's comments. "Australia's condemnation of this image is above politics," he said.

The Chinese Government Refuses To Apologise, Says Australia Should Feel "Ashamed"

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, was quick to flag Australia's response to the tweet. "The Australian side has been reacting so strongly to my colleague's tweet," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a briefing. "Why is that? Do they think that their merciless killing of Afghan civilians is justified but the condemnation of such ruthless brutality is not?" Ms Chunying added: Shouldn't the Australian Government feel ashamed? Shouldn't they feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians?"

Meanwhile, Hú Xījìn, editor of the state-affiliated Global Times, tweeted: "It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Forces's brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians. On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM? It's ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologize."

Mr Xījìn doesn't mince words when it comes to airing his views on the PM. In his column, he described Scott Morrison as "ridiculously arrogant", adding he should "slap himself in the face".

What Now?

Who knows. Lijian Zhao's tweet remains at large, and with the bilateral stoush coming days after China imposed hefty new tariffs on Australian wine, the relationship between the two countries is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, the horrific findings of the Brereton report remain.

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer at MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank

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