Chinese state-controlled media attacked New Zealand on Tuesday after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had expressed support for Australia in her recent dispute with China over the controversial tweet from a hawk diplomat.
The communist party newspaper Global Times noted that the prime minister’s criticism of the tweet from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was “cautious” – probably because of political considerations, including China’s role as New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
The newspaper’s views, best described by the government’s recent diplomatic approach as “wolf warriors,” were quashed in Wellington in an editorial titled “Kiwis bleat like Australian sheep, but do not condemn the Afghan killings.
Zhao’s tweet contained a manipulated image showing an Australian soldier cutting the throat of a young Afghan goatherd. It has been liked 60,000 times on Twitter since it went live on Monday.
“Shocked by the killing of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers We strongly condemn such acts and demand that they be brought to justice,” Zhao wrote, referring to last month’s Brereton report released by the Australian Defence Force after a four-year investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces during the war in Afghanistan.
Shocked by the killing of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers We strongly condemn such acts and call for them to be brought to justice. pic.twitter.com/GYOaucoL5D
– Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) 30 November 2020
Major General Paul Brereton’s investigation revealed that Australian elite troops had unlawfully killed at least 39 prisoners, farmers and civilians between 2005 and 2016. He recommended further investigation of 19 members of the Special Forces.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which has been conducting public diplomacy on Twitter, a website banned in mainland China, since 2009, took note of the findings and its efforts culminated in Zhao’s controversial Tweet.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from China and the removal of the Twitter post.
Ardern told reporters that the Chinese official’s tweet was “factually incorrect” and added that she had raised concerns with the Chinese authorities, presumably referring to Beijing’s representatives in New Zealand.
Despite a frank admission by the artist himself that the illustration was Photoshop edited – but he claimed that it was created “based on facts” – China this week denied repeated opportunities to withdraw Zhao’s tweet, accusing Morrison of trying to “divert attention” from the ADF report.
China does not regret the manipulated photograph of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child
The Global Times described Prime Minister Ardern as a “hypocrite” who “applies double standards” in condemning the tweet while trying to protect New Zealand-China relations.
“This is also part of the so-called Western values – the freedom to be a hypocrite,” the state tabloid wrote.
Since Zhao’s Tweet, which he placed at the beginning of his timeline, Chinese diplomats have been on the offensive against any government that supports Canberra, whose relations with China have reached a new low.
Beijing has accused Morrison of obeying the USA’s bid. In April, the Prime Minister called for an independent investigation into the source of the coronavirus outbreak, which led China to block imports of Australian beef and barley under threat of punishment.
Last month, import duties of up to 200 percent were imposed on Australian wine, while China’s tough measures are also expected to affect the country’s lobster and coal exports.