The Canadian government is condemning China for circulating a fake image on the internet of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child.
It is the first time Canada has come to the defence of Australia, its Commonwealth and Five Eyes ally, since a diplomatic row erupted between Beijing and Canberra following Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
On Monday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian, referencing a recent report into the conduct of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, posted a digitally fabricated image on Twitter of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of a veiled child.
On Thursday, the Canadian government expressed its revulsion at Mr. Zhao’s misinformation ploy.
“We were shocked to see the fabricated image posted by a Chinese government official,” said Syrine Khoury, the press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, in a statement.
“The dissemination of such inflammatory material and disinformation is beneath the standards of proper diplomatic conduct.”
Ms. Khoury said Canada and Australia are working together on China-related matters now. “As both Five Eyes allies and as liberal democracies, Canada and Australia are collaborating very closely on important issues related to China,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked China this week to apologize and take down the “truly repugnant” tweet. China declined. Britain, France, New Zealand and the United States have also condemned the tweet in recent days.
Beijing has been ramping up pressure on Australia, which relies heavily on trade with China, ever since the Morrison government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. The outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
China has since imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a slew of Australian exports, including barley, coal, copper, lobster, sugar, timber and wine.
Mr. Zhao was referring Monday to a report released last month by Australia’s military, which found evidence that elite Australian troops had unlawfully killed 39 prisoners, farmers and civilians during the conflict in Afghanistan. The report recommended that 19 soldiers be referred to the federal police for criminal investigation.
Mr. Zhao wrote a caption accompanying the tweet that said: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”
China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has defended Mr. Zhao. On Wednesday, spokeswoman Hua Chunying suggested that Australians are hypocrites for criticizing China’s human-rights record but refusing to account for their own.
“They have been trying their best to promote their values of democracy, human rights and freedom, but what they have done either tramples on democracy, human rights and freedom or reflects typical double standard and hypocrisy,” Ms. Hua told reporters at a briefing.
With files from the Associated Press
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.