The Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat has taken down a post by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in which he criticized a Beijing diplomat for attacking Australian soldiers.
According to Australian media, Morrison’s message was removed for violating WeChat guidelines which do not allow posts that are “inciting, misleading” and “distort historical events, and confuse the public.”
In his post, Morrison criticized Beijing over a tweet by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, which contained a photoshopped image of a grinning Australian soldier standing on the Australian and Afghan flags and holding a bloodied knife next to a throat of a child.
“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,” Morrison wrote. SBS News reported that the PM’s message had been read by 57,000 WeChat users by Wednesday.
Zhao’s November 30 tweet was in response to an official investigation which documented alleged acts of war crimes committed by elite Australian units in Afghanistan. The diplomat’s tweet sparked a heated back-and-forth between Canberra and Beijing.
Morrison slammed the doctored image as “truly repugnant” and “a terrible slur on our great defense forces.” He demanded an apology from China and said the government had asked Twitter to take down Zhao’s tweet. As of Thursday, the tweet has not been deleted.
Beijing refused to apologize, saying Australia should focus on bringing those guilty of war crimes in Afghanistan to justice.
Relations between China and Australia have been tense recently. China banned or reduced the import of Australian beef and several other products earlier this year, and slapped tariffs of up to 212.1 percent on its wine late last month. Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the government will appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over China’s tariffs on barley.
Zhao’s tweet further escalated the squabble between the two countries, with some Australian politicians now calling for a boycott on Chinese goods.
Morrison, however, told reporters on Thursday that, despite the tensions, Australia “remains committed to constructive and open and regular dialogue” with China.
“It’s in our interest to do that, it’s in the Chinese government’s interest to do that. We remain open to do that. We will be patient. We will continue to be clear,” the PM stated.
“I’ll leave WeChat to make an explanation of their actions if they choose to make one,” he added.
The inquiry into the conduct of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan was initiated by the inspector-general of the country’s armed forces. The redacted version of the report was published last month, revealing that troops executed dozens of prisoners and civilians. The gruesome allegations in the report shocked the nation and prompted the government to apologize to Kabul and the people of Afghanistan.