China’s duplicity exposed in Australia spat
China's staunch defence of a foreign official's right to publish a disgusting, doctored image depicting an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child reveals a double standard Beijing cannot hide from.
The picture, published on Twitter by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian last week, plunged an already dire diplomatic relationship ever deeper and led Prime Minister Scott Morrison to demand an apology.
"The post made today, the repugnant post made today of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child with a knife, a post made on an official Chinese government to recount, posted by the deputy director-general of the Ministry of foreign affairs, is truly repugnant,'' he said.
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But no apology was forthcoming. The stubbornness is to be expected given Beijing's stance towards Australia in recent years. But the refusal to back down from that offensive tweet is out of step with laws in China that criminalise criticism of Chinese soldiers.
China's Communist Party banned cartoons and stories that attempt to cast those who served in WWII in a negative light.
The "heroes and martyrs" laws were passed in 2018 to make it illegal to defame the country's servicemen and women.
Specifically, the laws protect the name, image, reputation and honour of those who served, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
"It is prohibited to misrepresent, defame, profane or deny the deeds and spirits of heroes and martyrs, or to praise or beautify invasions," Xinhua wrote.
According to news reports from 2018, those who breach the laws could be punished. In 2017, a court ordered a former magazine editor to issue a public apology for questioning whether stories about Chinese soldiers fighting the Japanese in WWII are strictly accurate.
"Only the official narrative is allowed to exist," historian and critic Zhang Lifan said in an interview with the Washington Post. "But 'What is the historical truth?' is not a question we ask now."
It was also reported in July last year that an amateur Chinese cartoonist was arrested for sharing content that "humiliates China".
The cartoons, depicting Chinese people in a derogatory way, were shared on social media before the 36-year-old was arrested.
China's deputy ambassador Wang Xining continued China's defence of the picture on Friday.
He told the ABC's foreign affairs reporter that Mr Morrison had overreacted with his comments about the fake image.
He said Mr Morrison had "gone astray" because his comments actually inflamed the issue further and brought more attention to the war crimes report that alleged Australian soldiers murdered innocent people in Afghanistan.
"There is much larger visibility of the Brereton report in China," he said.
"More people are attentive to what happened in Afghanistan. People wonder why a national leader would have such a strong opinion to an artwork done by a normal young artist in China."
Thread. I briefly interviewed China's Deputy head of mission Wang Xining on his way out of the @MarisePayne speech. Some interesting elements. The Deputy suggested the PM over-reacted by responding so angrily to the tweet by @zlj517 1/ pic.twitter.com/xQplHDUc97— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) December 4, 2020
The Chinese embassy last week issued a blistering response to the "rage and roar" of Australian politicians, accusing the PM of "overreacting".
"We would like to further stress the following: the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and over-reaction to Mr Zhao's tweet," the statement from the embassy said.
"The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism."
On Monday night, China's state-controlled media urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to "kneel down on the ground and slap himself in the face" over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
In an extraordinary attack, the Chinese state-controlled newspaper the Global Times called on the Prime Minister to "slap himself" during a nationally televised address.
"Morrison should kneel down on the ground, slap himself in the face, and kowtow to apologise to Afghans - all these should be done in a live telecast," the editor wrote.
Originally published as China's duplicity exposed in Australia spat