Nov. 29 (UPI) -- As tensions between the two countries further strain, Australia on Monday demanded China apologize for posting a "repugnant" and "offensive" doctored image on Twitter of an Australian soldier threatening the life of an Afghan child.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a strongly worded televised address that they have asked China's foreign affairs ministry to apologize for the post published a few hours earlier to the account of its deputy director and spokesman, Zhao Lijian.
"The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post," Morrison said in the address. "It diminishes them in the world's eyes."
The doctored image of the smiling solider holding a bloody knife to the throat of a small Afghan child with a lamb his arms was published two weeks after the Australian government announced findings of a report that said Australian soldiers unlawfully killed 39 Afghans between 2005 and 2016 during war in the Middle Eastern country.
"Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers," Zhao said in the tweet that accompanied the image. "We strongly condemn such acts & call for holding them accountable."
Morrison called the post "truly repugnant" and that they have asked both China and Twitter to remove it.
"It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform, every Australian who serves in that uniform today, everyone who has pulled on a uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation, that they have done that," he said. "It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever."
Relations between the two countries have been fraying as Canberra has repeatedly sided against Beijing in the last year concerning its human rights abuses, the widely condemned national security law it imposed on Hong Kong and the coronavirus pandemic.
China has responded by blaming Australia for the strained relations and imposing tariff penalties that are seen as retaliatory, with the most recent measure occurring on Friday when it increased import taxes of between 107% and 212% on wine from the Oceania nation while accusing it of price dumping.
Australia's trade chief, Simon Birmingham, rejected the accusation and suggested they may have been retaliatory.
Zhao told China state-run Global Times earlier this month the downturn in their relationship was due to Australia's "Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice" and its sense of feeling threatened by its development.
In the past year, Australia has banned China's electronics company Huawei from developing its 5G Internet infrastructure due to national security concerns and has joined the United States in endorsing an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China. It also canceled its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in reaction to China's imposition of a national security law on the former British colony.
Morrison said there are tensions between the two countries but said addressing them through this "slur on our great defense forces" is not the way to deal with their issues.
"I would hope this rather awful event hopefully may lead to the type of reset where this type of dialogue can be restarted," he said, adding, "You don't engage in in disinformation and the ugliness that we've seen in this post of the Chinese government Twitter account today."
Australia last week announced the the suspension of 10 members of the military and has promised to prosecute war crimes alleged in the report.