The Informer: An unedifying diplomatic pile-on

An unedifying diplomatic pile-on

It evolved into an international pile-on of sorts over the weekend and today it plumbed new depths on social media.

A diplomatic row of immense proportions has erupted after a tweet from a Chinese government spokesman includes a digitally altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to an Afghan child's throat.

Posted by Lijian Zhao, deputy director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it has thrown petrol on the fire that started with a series of punitive trade tariffs and escalated unexpectedly about lunchtime when the tweet was posted.

The image referred to alleged war crimes by some Australian soldiers detailed in the Brereton Report which found 25 Australian soldiers were allegedly involved in the murders of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.

The ABC reported the image appeared to be a reference to unsubstantiated rumours that elite Australian soldiers used knives to murder two Afghan teenagers. The inquiry found no evidence to support the rumours.

Reaction in Australia was bipartisan, swift and understandably emotive. Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it repugnant and deeply offensive. While there were undoubtedly tensions between China and Australia, he said, "this is not how you deal with them".

"It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who have served in that uniform for over 100 years," the PM said.

While even the government's regular detractors on Twitter could not condone the doctored image, references to Australia's human rights record flooded the website this afternoon. Senator Penny Wong, in particular, ignited even more comment around the nation's treatment of the likes of Julian Assange, David McBride and Witness K.

The row comes as debate rages in Australia over the Defence Force chief's plan to revoke military honours for 3000 special forces troops. No such decision had been made the PM said today.

And as political, philosophical and social debates rage, now more than ever support services are in the spotlight. One in particular is worth highlighting. Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former Australian Defence Force members and their families. Call them free on 1800 011 046.

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