Australia-China relations hit rock bottom after provocative tweet by senior Communist Party official

Screen Shot of Lijian Zhao tweet- SBS News video 30 Nov 2020

Screen Shot of Lijian Zhao tweet- SBS News video 30 Nov 2020

Australian-Chinese relations have taken a dramatic dip following a tweet by China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that included a doctored image depicting an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child.

The tweet said: ‘Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.’ It is a clear reference to the report into Australian special forces war crimes in Afghanistan.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded the tweet's deletion and an apology. In reply, the Chinese government attacked Australia’s motives: ‘One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities committed by certain Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties.’

Many Australians were outraged by the image, whilst others have focused on the atrocities themselves:

Human Rights Watch Australia's Elaine Pearson called out the Chinese government's human rights record:

Many Twitter responses centred on criticism of the Australian government response. Some believed Scott Morrison had given the Chinese Communist Party just what it wanted:

Relations between the two nations have been deteriorating over several years and came to a head when Australia called for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus. In mid-November, China identified 14 grievances against Australia in a document leaked by the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. China's complaints include: blocking of foreign investment in Australia; banning of Huawei Technologies from the 5G network development; foreign interference legislation; and the growth of closer defence ties with allies such as the United States and Japan.

Australia has been reeling from a series of trade disputes with China, which have seen some exports to its biggest trading partner blocked and crippling tariffs imposed on others. Australian wine exporters face tariffs that exceed 200 percent in some cases. A recent threat by Australia’s trade minister, Simon Birmingham, to take these cases to the World Trade Organization may have been the catalyst for China’s provocative social media attack.

Birmingham even suggested that consumers might boycott Chinese goods:

Chinese political artist Fu Yum, who is responsible for the original image, has threatened to produce another in retaliation for criticism of his image. Chinese Australian artist Badiucao responded with his own graphic images, pointing out CCP hypocrisy:

Australia has received strong public support from close allies, though Donald Trump has been silent. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern raised her concerns directly with the Chinese government.

This campaign is a small token on the economic front:

However, many Aussies do not look forward to the prospect of a trade war:

The Australian government would clearly like to reset the relationship but there is no clear path ahead at present. Talk of softening the conflict with China seems to be going nowhere. Scott Morrison has even taken to the Chinese social media platform WeChat to put his point of view to Chinese Australians and the people of China:

The post of a false image of an Australian soldier does not diminish our respect for and appreciation of our Chinese Australian community or indeed our friendship with the people of China.

The PM may be caught in a no-win situation:

To add fuel to the fire, another scandal involving Australian troops in Afghanistan has emerged:

The BBC’s Ros Atkins summed up a dreadful week:

Well-known Australian commentator Jane Caro expressed the fears of many fellow Australians:

Meanwhile, the diplomatic downward spiral has continued with the removal of Scott Morrison's post by WeChat. Even that has been a target of ridicule on social media:

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