China-Australia Row Reveals West’s Hypocrisy

Western leaders, who were as quiet as church mice when Australia’s alleged war crimes were revealed, suddenly roared like lions when China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson shared a satirical cartoon.

When the long-awaited inquiry into Australian war crimes was published last month, the findings painted a damning picture.  Nineteen soldiers from Australian special forces were alleged to have unlawfully killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners – including children.

The report detailed a shocking practice known as “blooding”, where young recruits were instructed by senior commanders to execute prisoners for their “first kill”. A “culture of secrecy” was said to exist, where witnesses remained silent and the guilty covered their crimes by planting weapons on the dead.

One particular incident, redacted for security and legal reasons, is described by authors as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”.

Despite the shocking revelations, few in the international community condemned Australian troops. Condolences for the Afghan people were also in short supply. Australia’s allies adopted a Mafia-like code of Omerta. The silence – stretching from London to Wellington to Washington – was deafening.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, did however, condemn Australian troops and called for those responsible to be held to account. “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, [and] call for holding them accountable,” Zhao wrote on Twitter.

His comments, accompanied by a satirical cartoon depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to the neck of an Afghan child, were quickly seized on by some in the West.

Condemned for calling out war crimes

Officials from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, and the European Union, quickly condemned china. Indeed, the very same leaders who were as quiet as church mice when Australia’s alleged war crimes were revealed, suddenly roared like lions over Zhao’s twitter post.

Beijing was accused of being spinning lies, with the image labeled as “untruthful”, “fake” and “doctored”.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was one of the first leaders to wade into the furore and declare her support for Canberra. In a statement to reporters, Arden said her government had raised concerns with Chinese spokesperson over what she labelled an “unfactual” image.

“This is an image that wasn’t factual,” she said. “In keeping with our principled position where images like that are used, we will raise those concerns and we’ll do it directly.”

Nabila Massrali, the EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, also condemned Beijing over the image, labelling it a fabrication.

“We consider the deliberate dissemination of a fabricated image via social media accounts affiliated with China’s ministry of foreign affairs to be irresponsible, insensitive and not at all constructive, particularly given the subject in question.”

Australia’s Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell promised on Nov. 22 that the country must own a recent report on soldiers committing crimes in Afghanistan.

Setting the record straight  

Firstly, the image at the center of ongoing diplomatic fracas, is not, as deemed by a handful of Western leaders, “fabricated” or “untruthful”. Nor is it, part of a Chinese government “disinformation” campaign.

The computer-generated image is, in fact, an accurate depiction of a scene told by the Australian military expert, Dr Samantha Crompvoets, whose reports of Australian troop misconduct prompted the official inquiry into Australian war crimes.

In an earlier report, military sociologist Dr Crompvoets, recorded that Australian soldiers had “slit the throats” of two 14-year-old-boys. “They stopped, searched the boys and slit their throats,” she noted. The rest of the Troop then had to ‘clean up the mess’, which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river.

A statement by the Chinese embassy in France, pointed out just how bizarre it was that some governments are more concerned with a cartoon than the atrocities themselves. “Rather than condemning the war atrocities of torturing and killing civilians, the French side blamed those who denounced the atrocities,” the embassy said.

“One cannot help but question whether those who made such comments are on the side of the war criminals or of international justice and human conscience.”

Imagine the tables were turned and Afghanistan had committed the same alleged atrocities against the Australian people. Would Western leaders be so fixated on a tweet? Or, would they instead be condemning those involved and calling for justice for Australia?

Australian soldiers patrolled in the town of Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan on Aug. 16, 2008.

Justice for Afghanistan

The people of Afghanistan deserve justice. In an effort to deliver that justice, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIRHC), has called on all countries involved in the war, to hold their own war crimes investigations.

“The AIHRC calls on the US and UK, and other countries with an armed presence in Afghanistan to respond to these media reports, and to investigate their forces’ participation, and leadership, of acts of violence against Afghan non-combatants, including detainees and civilians,” it said in a statement.

Washington and London have so far refused to investigate alleged war crimes committed by their own military forces in Afghanistan. Both have also gone to great lengths to shield their soldiers from scrutiny.

In the UK, the Johnson government is seeking to provide amnesty to war crimes by passing the Overseas Operations Bill. Meanwhile, Washington has sanctioned International Criminal Court officials investigating alleged US war crimes. Perhaps this is the reason why certain governments were so reluctant to condemn Australia in the first place.

If the West are to retain any sense of credibility, they will condemn the distressing acts detailed in the report, and call, as Beijing did, for those guilty to be held to account. Additionally, all countries involved in the war in Afghanistan, will, as demanded by the AIHRC, support calls for an investigation into its own armed forces.