New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has raised concerns with Chinese authorities about Beijing's use of a doctored image to target Australia's war crimes record as international pressure mounts on China's Foreign Ministry.
The image, which saw Canberra and Beijing trade diplomatic barbs on Monday, purports to show an Australian special forces soldier slitting the throat of a small Afghan child wrapped in Australian flag.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.Credit:Getty Images
Ardern on Tuesday said New Zealand had registered its concerns directly with Chinese authorities over the use of the image by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Twitter.
"It was an unfactual post, and of course that would concern us,” Ardern said.
“In this case an image has been used that is not factually correct, that is not a genuine image. So we have raised that directly with Chinese authorities.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week extended an olive branch to China, saying he was willing to discuss their list of complaints any time and reiterated Australia wanted nothing more than “happy coexistence” with its largest trading partner.Credit:AP, PMO
China has been ramping up its criticism of Australia's human rights record as it simultaneously hits half-a-dozen Australian industries with trade strikes, blocking coal, seafood, wine, barley and cotton shipments to increase pressure on Australia to change its foreign policy positions.
The intervention from Ardern is a sign of a broader international response to China's increasingly assertive diplomacy. New Zealand has been careful to maintain its economic relationship with its largest trading partner and has largely avoided making separate statements on China's conduct to date.
The Chinese Communist Party has been criticised by dozens of countries for its record on human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, where it has imposed re-education programs, allegedly covered up forced labour camps and imprisoned dissidents.
The Australian-government initiated Brereton inquiry found up to 39 Afghans had been murdered by Australian soldiers.
In the United Kingdom, the China research group led by the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, and former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer are pushing for united international sanctions on Chinese officials and protections measures for those affected by Beijing's human rights abuses.
“Like-minded democracies need to rethink their approach to China," Tugendhat said.
"We should seek to hold China to its international obligations – and that includes preparing a package of measures which could be enacted in response to continued CCP violations of human rights and international law.”
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said on Tuesday the "appalling" meme issued by the communist party was proof of China "beating up" Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called for an apology from the Chinese government and urged Twitter to remove the post.
In a statement a spokeswoman confirmed Twitter would not remove the post.
"The image contained within the Tweet in question has been marked as sensitive media," she said.
According to its company rules, foreign policy claims by politicians or "sabre-rattling" from official government accounts are generally not considered a violation.
The Morrison government was preparing to escalate its complaint to the company's San Francisco headquarters on Tuesday.
China's Foreign Ministry on Monday evening doubled-down on Zhao's claims, saying Australia should be ashamed of its record in Afghanistan after Morrison demanded an apology.
"Does that mean that they think the coldblooded murder of Afghans is justified?," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Diplomatic dialogue between the two countries has been plagued by a shutdown in ministerial contact since the start of this year. The Chinese embassy issued a list of 14 grievances with Australian policies via the media in November, as it warned the Morrison government to change course on Huawei, the South China Sea and Hong Kong.
Former foreign minister Bob Carr said on Twitter on Tuesday that frozen ministerial contact had left little space for mediation.
"In a restored bilateral relationship the findings of Australian war crimes and the removal of legal autonomy in Hong Kong would be subject of face to face discussions including at a reinstated Australia China human rights dialogue," he said.
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