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The Chinese embassy to Australia, in Canberra

China hits out again – then tells Australia to fix the relationship

The Chinese embassy has suggested the Morrison government is trying to “stoke domestic nationalism” in its denunciation of an offensive Chinese tweet depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat.

In a Tuesday statement the embassy also said the government should “face up to the crux of the current setback of bilateral relationship and take constructive practical steps to help bring it back to the right track”.

It did not say how this should be done.

The statement was the latest salvo in the angry exchanges between the two countries over the tweet posted by Lijian Zhao, director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The tweet followed the Brereton report on atrocities allegedly committed by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Morrison on Monday attacked the tweet, with its falsified image, as offensive and outrageous. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, complained to the Chinese ambassador.

The embassy said “the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr. Zhao’s tweet.

"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.”

“All of this is obviously not helpful to the resetting of bilateral relationship, ” said the statement, attributed to an embassy spokesperson. “It’s our advice that the Australian side face up to the crimes committed by the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, hold those perpetrators accountable and bring justice to the victims.”

Having made his point about the tweet very strongly on Monday, Morrison on Tuesday did not want to escalate the row further. He told the Coalition parties meeting the Australian response did not need further amplification.

Earlier an aggressive article from the editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, an official mouthpiece, said: “Australian troops and fleets should leave Asia and coastal waters of the Asian continent,

"More precisely, they should run as far as they can. The Morrison administration is making Australia provocative and wanting a spanking.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said NZ had raised the tweet with China.

“New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” she said.

She said the post was not factual “and, of course, that would concern us”.

Afghanstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement it was “aware of a photo showing an Australian soldier’s misconduct with an Afghan and has started investigating the case”.

It said the ministry and the Australian government were “jointly working to investigate the misconduct of the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The aim of the investigation is to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”

It added that Afghanistan believed “both Australia and China are key players in building and maintaining international and regional consensus on peace and development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan hopes to maintain and strengthen cooperation with the two countries.”

As the fallout from the Brereton report continues on multiple fronts, including with pressure from the government and others for those up the chain of military command to be accorded more responsibility for what had happened in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “the report does demonstrate very serious failures of leadership over many years in the Australian Defence Force and across the defence organisation more widely.

"The reasons for those leadership failures and command failures need serious analysis and considerations. …

"Any of the allegations of criminality in that report are going through the Office of Special Investigator and they will be carefully considered through the Australian criminal justice process with the presumption of innocence, of course. But there are serious issues that now need to be addressed in how this happened and how it was able to happen for so long.”

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