- Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology from the Chinese government.
- Lijian Zhao, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry, earlier tweeted the fake image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of a child.
- Morrison said his government has also asked Twitter to take down the tweet but the social media company has yet to do so.
SINGAPORE — Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology from the Chinese government after a senior official posted a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of a child.
"Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately," Morrison told reporters.
Lijian Zhao, who is a spokesperson and a deputy director general at the Chinese foreign ministry, earlier tweeted the doctored image with a caption that read: "Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable."
The picture showed an Australian soldier smiling and sitting on an Australian flag that was eclipsed with Afghanistan's flag.
Morrison described the tweet as a "repugnant post" and said it was "deeply offensive" to every Australian, including past and present members of the Australian Defence Force.
"It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever. The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes," Morrison said.
Twitter did not take down the tweet. A spokesperson for the social media platform told CNBC: "The image contained within the Tweet in question has been marked as sensitive media."
For world leaders and official government accounts, direct interactions with other public figures or comments on political, economic or military issues generally do not violate Twitter's rules, the tech giant says on its website.
Zhao's Twitter handle is marked as a China government account.
His tweet was in reference to a report earlier this month of a four-year investigation by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force. The report found that Australia's special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan. The inquiry timeframe covered incidents rumored to have occurred between 2005 to 2016.
The inquiry said it found credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner in order to achieve the soldier's first kill — a practice that was known as "blooding." All those unlawful killings were said to have been done outside the "heat of battle."
Australia said 19 current and former soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution, Reuters reported.
The bilateral relationship between China and Australia has soured in recent months. Earlier this year, Australia supported a growing call for an international inquiry into China's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has taken measures against Australian exporters, including imposing steep anti-dumping duties on Australian wine exports to China.
Morrison said while tensions undoubtedly exist between the two countries, it should be addressed in a mature and responsible way by seeking engagement at leadership and ministerial levels.
— Note: This article has been updated to reflect Twitter's response to CNBC's request for comment.