Australian Embassy faces backlash on Chinese social media after calling satirical cartoon 'fake', backing Morrison's demand
Published: Dec 01, 2020 06:29 PM Updated: Dec 01, 2020 11:20 PM

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: VCG

The Australian Embassy in China found itself in hot water after taking to social media to call a popular cartoon of an Australian soldier murdering a child "fake" and forwarded Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's remarks on the issue, prompting thousands of Chinese netizens to reject the accusation and expose the Australian government's hypocrisy.

The embassy said on Chinese Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Monday that they noticed a "fake" picture of Australian soldiers was circulating on Weibo, and shared Morrison's comments on the picture.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao tweeted a satirical cartoon depicting an Australian soldier murdering a child. "Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable," Zhao commented.

Morrison then demanded an apology from China over the tweet, claiming the cartoon was fake and that China should feel "ashamed" of it.

"Finally and most importantly, I am extremely proud of all Australians who put a uniform on for Australia. I am proud of their service. I am proud of their dedication. I am proud of their loyalty to this country and its values," Morrison noted.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Monday rejected Morrison's demand, saying that the Australian government should feel "ashamed" for murdering Afghan civilians.

Morrison's remarks along with the Australian Embassy's comment have sparked a backlash among Chinese netizens.

"The picture is exactly a fake. You [Australian soldiers] killed two children. He [the cartoonist] only drew one." The comment has been liked 35,341 times as of press time.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Tuesday, "There is a clear-cut distinction between a piece of artwork and a faked photo." 

"Morrison deliberately misnamed the computer-generated artwork as a fake photo to stoke domestic nationalist resentment toward China, using the tweet to deflect the international public indignation at the Australian soldiers' atrocities in Afghanistan," Chen said.

A Chinese netizen condemned the Australian government as "shameless," asking Morrison to apologize and compensate Afghanistan.

"How can a folk cartoon based on facts become a fake picture? Is this the country that shouts about democracy and freedom?" another asked.

"This is the Chinese people's freedom to create, and Australia should not use the 'state diplomatic machine' to interfere with the Chinese people's right and freedom," said another netizen. 

According to a report by the Australian Department of Defense, members of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment put two 14-year-old boys into bags after cutting their throats and threw them into a river. It also said that Australian Special Forces would open fire, killing many men and sometimes women and children in a village as they ran away in what were "sanctioned massacres."

The Chinese Embassy in Australia on Tuesday published a notice saying that the Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday made a complaint to the Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye by phone about Zhao's tweet. 

Cheng rejected the unwarranted accusations as absolutely unacceptable. Hua Chunying clearly stated China's position on the matter later in the day.

Many foreign netizens also slammed Morrison's demand.

A Twitter user mocked Morrison for "calling on us to be angry at a tweet", adding, "God, he so wants to be Trump it's not even funny." The netizen tweeted with a hashtag "NotMyPM."

Other netizens commented on the Australian soldiers' crimes in Afghanistan, saying, "The damage is done. How can Morrison demand an apology when his words 'we are going to hear brutal truths' have been translated into a vile illustration?"

Chen criticized Morrison, saying the prime minister, instead of being accountable for Australia's war crimes in Afghanistan and taking necessary measures to reform the "army culture in Australia's defence forces", was clumsily trying to shift the target of public outrage to the Chinese government. 

"This reveals his cowardliness and lack of sense of responsibility as a fully independent, grown-up statesman," Chen said.