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War crimes tweet further sours China-Australia relations

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By Hebe Campbell  & Seana Davis
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Australia has demanded an apology from Beijing over a Chinese government tweet linked to alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Lijian Zhao, a spokesman for China's foreign affairs ministry, tweeted a composite image referring to the report with the words: "Shocked by [the] murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts."

The image, not a real photograph, shows a grinning soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of a veiled child, who is holding a lamb.

Credible evidence was found that 39 Afghans were killed by Australian soldiers, a long-awaited report concluded earlier this month.

The image sparked outrage from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who demanded an apology and called on Twitter to remove the image.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern added on Tuesday that her country has voiced its concerns about the image directly with Chinese authorities.

In a statement to Euronews, Twitter said the tweet has been marked for containing sensitive media, but gave no indication that the tweet would be removed. Twitter's label only appears depending on a user's settings.

The social media giant added that comments on topical political issues or "threatening foreign policy statements" from official government accounts do not generally violate its rules.

The tweet has escalated already existing tension between China and Australia after Scott Morrison called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in April.

Since then, an Australian anchor for Chinese media group CGTN, Cheng Lei, was arrested in August, sparking international outcry.

In recent days the Chinese government has also slapped tariffs on Australian wine, at a rate of between 107% to 212%. Australia relies on China as a key trading partner.