China And Australia: How A Twitter Spat Quickly Escalated

From furious insults to WeChat censorship, a spat between China and Australia over a controversial tweet has escalated into an online tit-for-tat in recent days.

The catalyst for the row, posted by a top Chinese government official, was a fake image.

But the diplomatic fall-out has been all too real, plunging an already fragile relationship between the two countries further into the abyss.

It all began with that shocking tweet.

On Monday China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted this fake image on Twitter, responding to a damning report about alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. 

We've blurred out a part of it, but the picture shows a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

"Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, and call for holding them accountable," he wrote.

Less than two hours later, a furious Scott Morrison, Australia's prime minister, was on national television demanding an apology from Beijing. Deploying his most undiplomatic language to date, he called it "truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous".

He added that Australia had established a transparent process to investigate the alleged war crimes, as was expected of a "democratic, liberal" country.

However, he also appealed for China to answer Australia's calls for diplomatic talks, asking them "to re-engage".

Beijing seemed less keen: a few hours later, the riposte came from Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman. "It's not China which should be ashamed, but Australia," she said.

On Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, the artist behind the image chimed in too, posting that he hadn't expected "Old Morrison" to reply.



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