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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Use of Fake Photo vs Australia Brings China Diplomacy to New Lows

Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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In this image from video, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian speaks at a briefing in Beijing Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Lijian said Australia should do something “to promote mutual trust and cooperation” between the two countries, in response to the call from Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham for dialogue and discussion with China to stop the trade disruptions over tensions. Australia is the first country to ban China's Huawei from its 5G network and Canberra led a global effort calling for an independent probe into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which first emerged in China’s Wuhan city. (AP Photo)

Beijing’s high-handed use of a fake image in its tense standoff with Canberra is not only unjust, it can be best characterized as malicious propaganda. The Chinese government must apologize.

 

A November 30 tweet by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian contained a fabricated scene of unknown origin depicting Australian peacekeeping troops committing atrocities against Afghan civilians, raising a storm of controversy.

 

This is only the latest example of Beijing’s hyper-aggressive wolf warrior diplomacy and sinister propaganda offensive. 

 

The image in question purports to show an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child. 

 

 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted angrily to the use of the fake image, saying: “It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever. The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post.”

 

He also demanded that the “repugnant” post be deleted and that the Chinese government apologize.

 

Far from apologizing, Hua Chunying — who, as director of the foreign ministry’s information department, is Zhao’s superior — pushed the falsehood further, saying, “Do they think that their merciless killing of Afghan civilians is justified, but the condemnation of such ruthless brutality is not?” 

 

Reacting with fury to Australia’s criticisms of China in regards to the issues of Hong Kong freedoms, Xinjiang human rights, and calls for an independent inquiry into China’s initial handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, Beijing has recently taken to various unjustified reprisals to pressure Canberra, such as barring or restricting Australian imports.

 

RELATED READ: EDITORIAL | Allies, Let’s Rally Behind Australia in the Face of Bullying by China

 

Beijing’s high-handed use of a fake image in its tense standoff with Canberra is not only unjust, it can be best characterized as malicious propaganda. 

 

The Chinese government must apologize for Zhao’s incendiary post and immediately remove the offending image.

 

In November, the Australian government released an explosive report detailing how since 2009 Australian special forces fighting in Afghanistan had illegally killed at least 39 Afghan civilians. 

 

The head of the Australian Defense Force made a “sincere apology” and a criminal investigation has been launched. We can by no means condone unlawful killings. And we would note that the conduct of the Australian military has been harshly condemned both at home and abroad.

 

Nevertheless, the use by Chinese diplomats of a fabricated image from an unknown source to attack another country is simply wrong.

 

A spokesperson for France’s foreign ministry labeled the tweet “unworthy of the diplomatic methods expected from a nation like China.” 

 

Zhao Lijian already had a reputation for making provocative statements. In March, again without evidence, he alleged on Twitter that “the U.S. military might have brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan.” 

 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vehemently protested that it was hardly the time to be spreading groundless rumors and bizarre hearsay.

 

Then, last month, reacting to the joint statement on the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong from the foreign ministers of the “Five Eyes” nations, Zhao sarcastically told a press briefing, “They should beware that their eyes are not poked out and blinded.”

 

The so-called “Five Eyes” is an intelligence partnership among the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

 

Due to his aggressive style, Zhao has earned a reputation as a “wolf warrior.” That Zhao continues with his baseless accusations and thuggish behavior, scorning apologies and self-reflection, shows that he does so with the approval of the Chinese government.

 

China should realize that continuing to act in this fashion will further harm its dignity and the trust of others. It should correct its conduct. 

 

(Read the original editorial in Japanese here.)

 

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun