Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

China Refuses To Apologize To Australia Over Official's Tweet Of Doctored Image

China is deepening its spat with Australia, refusing to apologize after a government official posted an altered image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a young Afghan boy's throat. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had asked for an apology; instead, a Chinese government representative excoriated Australia for its troops' alleged brutality in Afghanistan.

"The Australian side has been reacting so strongly to my colleague's tweet," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a briefing Monday. "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!"

Hua was referring to a tweet by Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson known for his controversial statements, in which Zhao posted the heavily manipulated image and wrote, "Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable."

Zhao pinned the message to the top of his Twitter feed; the social media company has obscured the image with a warning that it contains "potentially sensitive content," but it did not remove the tweet, as Morrison says he requested.

Australia's prime minister called the tweet repugnant, outrageous and offensive, adding, "The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post."

Morrison asked China to apologize, saying his government has conveyed its displeasure through China's ambassador in Canberra, through foreign relations and trade channels and through Australia's ambassador in Beijing.

Hua referred to "heinous crimes committed by some Australian soldiers in Afghanistan" and said Australia owes the Afghan people a formal apology. She did not mention that the head of the Australian Defence Force, Gen. Angus Campbell, apologized this month for his soldiers' conduct when he announced the findings of a years-long investigation into alleged wartime abuses and crimes.

"I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers," Campbell said when the report was released. The military has also recommended a criminal investigation into 19 soldiers over their roles in the killing of 39 Afghans.

Hua rebuffed Morrison's request for an apology on Monday. When she was asked about the flap, she criticized Australia anew and cited gruesome details from the report into alleged war crimes.

This is the latest in a string of disputes between Australia and China, whose relationship is now at its lowest level in years. In April, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and the handling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China. Several rounds of counteraccusations between the two countries ensued, with arguments spilling over into areas of trade and sovereignty.

Hua insisted the current dispute is not related to the bigger picture of the two countries' rocky relationship, but she reiterated her criticisms of Australia, saying the country "said and did the wrong things on issues related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang" — two areas where China has faced its own accusations of human rights abuses this year.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.