Politics

Australia Cares More About A Meme Than Actual War Crimes

A single doctored image sent from a Chinese official's twitter account has sent the government into a spin about entirely the wrong thing.

A single image sent by a member of the Chinese government depicting a child draped in an Australian flag, holding a lamb having its throat cut by an Australian soldier has sent all of our political and media class into a spin.

The tweet was made against the backdrop of the Brereton Report, which revealed dozens of war crimes committed by Australian soldiers and a worsening trade war against the Asian superpower.

China has shown us as who we really are. The reaction to a low-level diplomat’s tweet, which depicted something that actually happened (albeit in a dramatised way) has been shocking and pathetic.


Australian soldiers slit the throats of children in Afghanistan. They may not have been children themselves, draped in a flag, or holding a lamb but the effective meaning is the same.

Breathless outrage from the political class and the media shows us two things: we care about the criticism of our war crimes more than the crimes themselves, and we will tie ourselves into knots to criticise China for things we, and our allies, do because of our Sinophobia.

Setting aside the utter lack of dignity Scott Morrison has displayed by becoming incandescently incensed by a spokesperson for the foreign minister, this response — when compared to his reaction of the actual war crimes themselves — makes Australia look heartless.

China has noticed this and seized on it. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was reported by ABC China correspondent Bill Birtles as saying:

“The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague’s tweet — Does this mean they think the cruel killing of Afghan lives is justified?

“Afghan lives matter…  shouldn’t the Australian soldiers feel ashamed?”

She was right to point it out. Surely the correct way to show shame and genuine regret is to accept criticism, not show more emotion in 15 minutes of decrying it than during the entire apology.

Not only did Scott Morrison and his ministry participate in this conflagration (incorrectly labelling the tweet a “lie” or “disinformation”) but so did their political enemies, including the Greens.

“Criticism of Australia’s human rights record is legitimate, but this isn’t the way to do it,” leader Adam Bandt said. “The Chinese government should delete it immediately.”

If the single-minded hysteria of politicians wasn’t enough, prominent media identities lined up to condemn the tweet.

“Australia has investigated, owned up to and will prosecute its war criminals,” AFR political editor Phillip Coorey said. “China’s crimes against humanity (Uighurs etc) are state sanctioned, covered up, and more widespread. That’s the key difference.”

25 SAS members committed 39 murders of Afghans, some of them as young as 14-years-old. Men and boys thought to be Taliban sympathisers had their throats cut and were dumped into rivers, or were murdered because taking them prisoner would be an inconvenience. Others were ordered to kill prisoners as an initiation ritual.

And these are just the things we know about. Entire incidents are redacted, including one described as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”. I’d hate to try consider what could be worse than slitting the throats of children.

But for whatever reason, Phil decided that he’d be the pot that called the kettle black.

Never mind that we put Muslims in camps, and are committing a genocide against Indigenous Australians — both of which are bipartisan policy in Australia.

State-committed human rights abuses aren’t the same here apparently.

“China is an authoritarian dictatorship. It doesn’t respect the rule of law, copyright, IP, democracy, you name it,” Peter van Onselen said in response to the image. “It murders its citizens without apology and locks up the innocent. It has concentration camps and suppresses minorities. There’s no free media. And it’s on the rise…”

We seem to have little respect for the rule of law here either. Minister for Population, Cities, and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge has been accused of criminal conduct, but won’t resign.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had to be told he could be in contempt of court before he would make a decision on a protection visa for an Iranian man.

Let’s also not forget the invasion of Afghanistan was illegal and not one world leader has been held accountable for it.

The US, one of our closest allies, is currently putting minorities deemed to be illegal immigrants in detention centres that have been said to resemble concentration camps. It uses the loophole in the 13th amendment, which allows criminals to be slaves to use incarcerated Black men as free or essentially free labour. Black people are regularly shot in the streets by police and sometimes citizens.

But we are silent.

So not only do we appear to care more about the insult of our war crimes being spoken about, but we also apply a level of scrutiny to China that we don’t apply to ourselves or others because it is politically convenient, or in keeping with our long-held Sinophobia — or both.

The doctored image was akin to a political cartoon and politicians like Scott Morrison regularly defend the right to free speech of our cartoonists to draw racist and offensive things. There is hypocrisy all the way down in our response.

Our reaction to this provocation has shown our inaction. We lecture China for calling out crimes that deserve castigation. How we react to this and how strongly reveals who we really are. War criminals afraid of scrutiny.

We should have a bit of perspective. An international incident over a tweet. How about we redirect some of that rage towards the soldiers who murdered children and lowered our standing in the eyes of our neighbours.