Dec 1, 2020 - World

Australia-China tensions ratchet up over doctored Afghanistan photo

Austrian PM Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/AFP via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology and said China’s government should be "utterly ashamed" after a senior official tweeted a doctored image showing an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child.

Background: The tweet referred to a recent inspector general's report about war crimes allegedly committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. But the hawkish messages from China toward Australia didn’t start there.

  • China has placed tariffs on key Australian exports like wine in response to what it claims are hostile policies from Canberra.
  • Australia’s primary offense appears to have been a call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, but China has listed 13 other grievances. They include the exclusion of Huawei from Australia’s 5G networks and critical press coverage of China.

Why it matters: Australia is deeply reliant on trade with China. So are many countries around the world who will see this as a reminder from Beijing to toe the line.

  • The hardline approach isn’t winning China any fans in Australia. Trust in China to “act responsibly in the world” has fallen to 23% from 52% over two years, per the Lowy Institute.
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