Barnaby Joyce has likened the Chinese spokesman who posted an inflammatory tweet about Australian soldiers to a “stupid high school student”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted a graphic, doctored image on Monday, depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child. The post was a reference to the Afghan war crimes report.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison lashed the “repugnant” tweet, demanding Beijing take it down and issue an apology.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said firebrand diplomats like Mr Zhao served a purpose to the Chinese regime but were ultimately “short-lived”.
“This isn’t the work of a smart diplomat, this is the work of a stupid high school student with an incredibly vindictive edge to it,” he said.
“They think they’re wolf warriors but they’re actually a form of Chinese rocket: incredibly colourful, short-lived. They go to great heights quickly and explode never to be seen again.
“You’re not going to see in the history of China guys like Zhao Lijian attaining high office.”
Twitter has so far refused to act on a request from the federal government to remove the tweet.
But China’s Foreign Ministry is not backing down on the inflammatory post, saying Australia had some “soul searching” to do over the allegations in the Brereton report.
“The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague’s Twitter. Does that mean that they think the cold-blooded murder of Afghan innocent civilians is justified while other people’s condemnation of such crimes are not justified?” spokesman Hua Chunying said on Monday night.
“Afghan lives matter.”
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has joined the government in calling for China to remove the post, which she described as a deliberate provocation.
“The Australian community is unified in our response. But I do think in the face of deliberate provocation … it’s always best if we respond calmly and strategically rather than emotionally. she said.
“One of the things that I think we ought to be proud of as Australians is the way in which we, and most importantly the Australian Defence Force, has responded to the allegations and the findings of the Brereton report.”
Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten has accused Beijing of “wolf warrior diplomacy”, saying the tweet was part of a broader attempt to “bully” Canberra through a trade war that has already hit Australian lobster, wine and barley.
“It’s offensive, it’s immature. This is part of a classic troll attack by the Chinese,” he told Today.
“These guys are acting like bullies and I think they underestimate Australians. We’re always happy to look at where we can do things better I think in this country. But no one bullies us, it doesn’t matter how big they are.
“They want to demonstrate to other countries that they can call the shots, and Australia has a lot of trade with China. They’re trying to teach us a lesson and, perhaps through us, other people.
“China feels they can be the big authority in the big power. But I think they’ve underestimated our resolve.”
Labor has offered bipartisan support on the issue, joining the government in condemning the post and declining to raise it during parliamentary question time.
Mr Morrison used a keynote speech last week to laud China’s role in dragging millions out of poverty. China’s Foreign Ministry praised the comments in an apparent sign relations were beginning to thaw.
But despite the sharp reversal, Multicultural Minister Alan Tudge said the tweet represented only the views of the Chinese Communist Party, not Chinese-Australians.
Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles acknowledged the government had been trying to take the heat out of the relationship in recent times.
“There have been a number of attempts by the government to try and say more conciliatory things in relation to China to reduce the temperature in respect of our relationship, and I’ve welcomed that,” he told ABC radio.
“What we saw yesterday, though, obviously makes it very hard. This doesn’t help take the relationship to a place that both countries need to get it to.”