Australia’s prime minister sends WeChat message to Chinese diaspora in spat

(Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has used Chinese social media platform WeChat to criticise a “false image” of an Australian soldier posted on Twitter by the Chinese government.

China has rebuffed Morrison’s calls for an apology after its foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted the digitally manipulated image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child on Monday.

China’s embassy said the “rage and roar” from Australian politicians and media over the image was an overreaction.

In a WeChat message on Tuesday night, Morrison wrote that the diplomatic dispute over the image of the soldier “does not diminish respect and appreciation for the Chinese community in Australia”.

He defended Australia’s handling of a war crimes investigation into the actions of special forces in Afghanistan, and said Australia is able to deal with “thorny issues” like this in a transparent manner.

Australia has previously said 19 soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution for the killings of unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians.

WeChat told an Australian government inquiry in October it had 690,000 active daily users in Australia. Morrison’s message had been read by 50,000 WeChat users by Wednesday morning.

Zhao’s tweet, pinned to the top of his Twitter account, had been “liked” by 54,000 followers, after Twitter labelled it as sensitive content but declined the Australian government’s request to remove the image.

Twitter is blocked in China, but has been increasingly used by Chinese diplomats who have adopted combative “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” tactics this year.

China on Friday imposed dumping tariffs of up to 200% on Australian wine imports, effectively shutting off the largest export market for the Australian wine industry, amid a worsening diplomatic dispute that has seen a serious of trade reprisals imposed by China.