Prime Minister Scott Morrison unleashed on China's foreign ministry for releasing a graphic fake image depicting an Australian soldier slitting a child's throat.
China has hit back at the Australian government after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an apology over a "deplorable", "repugnant" and "terribly offensive" fake photo shared on social media.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman with China's foreign ministry, released the graphic fake image of an Australian soldier slitting a child's throat.
"Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers," he posted to Twitter on Monday.
"We strongly condemn such acts and call for holding them accountable."
The post apparently relates to the Brereton Report into alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan, which was released earlier this month.
Mr Morrison also called on Twitter to take down the image, which the company did on Monday afternoon.
"It is an outrageous and disgusting slur and in the interests of decency they should take it down," the prime minister said.
"Australia’s transparent and honest way of dealing with this issue is a credit to this nation and a credit to those who wear the uniform.
"Few countries around the world would have dealt with this in the way that we have, you don’t engage in disinformation and the ugliness seen on the Chinese government post."
But China appears unlikely to apologise, with China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying suggesting at a press briefing that the Australian government should "do some soul-searching".
"The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague's Twitter. Does that mean they think the cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians is justified, while other people's condemnations of such crimes are not justified?" she said.
"The Australian government should do some soul-searching and bring the culprits to justice.
"Shouldn't the Australian government feel ashamed? Shouldn't they feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians?"
Meanwhile, Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge held a phone hookup with Chinese community leaders and members of Australia's Chinese diaspora on Monday evening, to reassure them that they have the government's support and to answer any questions.
He later said in a statement that the actions of the Chinese Community Party (CCP) did not reflect the views of more than 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage who had chosen to make Australia their home.
"Today's actions by the CCP should not diminish our respect for and appreciation of our Chinese Australian community or indeed our friendship with the people of China," Mr Tudge said in a statement.
"The differences between our governments do not take away from the contribution that generations of Chinese migrants have made to Australia."
Both Russia and China have been targeting Australia after the release of the Afghan war crimes report.
Russia has recently said allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan had weakened Australia's international standing.
Moscow's foreign ministry spokeswoman also claimed Australian soldiers accused of murdering civilians and torturing prisoners would not be held accountable.
Maria Zakharova said the allegations called into question Australia's commitment to protecting the rules-based world order.
A report released by Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell earlier this month found special forces committed at least 39 unlawful killings during the Afghanistan war and treated two prisoners with cruelty.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne also hit out at China's tweet on Monday, labelling the post an "appalling, outrageous and disgusting piece of social media" and the most "egregious" example of disinformation she has witnessed in her time in parliament.
"The Australian government has called in the Chinese ambassador and sought an apology from the ambassador in relation to this tweet," she told Question Time on Monday.
"We will [also] be conveying that message directly in Beijing through our ambassador."
Relations between China and Australia have soured in recent months, with China slapping import tariffs on Australian agricultural products such as barley and wine.
The heightened tensions follow Australia's call for an independent international investigation into the origins and spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
New Zealand keen to walk 'predictable' line with China
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her country can continue to remain "consistent" and "predictable" in its dealings with China.
New Zealand was slower to join Australia's push for an investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak, but eventually did so and called on Taiwan to be re-instated into the World Health Organisation. That angered China, and earned Ms Ardern's government a formal rebuke.
This month, New Zealand joined with allies Australia, Canada, the US and the UK in calling for a restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
But it has avoided the trade repercussions from Beijing that Australia is experiencing.
Ms Ardern said her country's position on Hong Kong was "completely understandable and reasonable" and the threat of sanction wouldn't stop her government from speaking out.
She suggested consistency and predictability was key.
"We signal we have these concerns, and in a very predictable way we will use different forums, whether it's ministerial statements, whether it's bilateral," Ms Ardern said.
"New Zealand is pretty predictable in these areas and that's the course of action that we take with any country where we have concerns."
Hopes for a 'reset'
Mr Morrison said despite the image being shared by Beijing, he still was hoping for a "reset" in relations.
"I would hope this rather awful event will lead to the kind of reset where this type of dialogue can be restarted. But this type of behaviour is not on," he said.
"Today is not a day for Australia to feeling wrongly about how we conduct ourselves, even with this difficult information to deal with. The only thing wrong is the tweet," he added.
Labor's spokesperson on foreign affairs Senator Penny Wong also condemned the tweet in the senate.
"It is gratuitous, inflammatory and it is deeply offensive. This is not the behaviour of a responsible, mature international power," she said.
"These tactics will be met with unified condemnation in the Australian community. And they will be judged harshly by the international community."