Tue, 26 Jan 2021

BEIJING, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- In an editorial entitled Convivial Justice, the Afghanistan Times welcomed Beijing's condemnation of Australian military brutality in Afghanistan, observing that "killing unarmed people is not acceptable for China. Beijing's strong reaction is a great example of such."

Such an authentic and local view should be valued, as it speaks for the very people who have suffered from the war and its related atrocities for nearly two decades, recently highlighted in a tweet from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

From the heart of the war-torn country, the paper hailed China's reaction to the atrocities and urged other countries to follow suit. But apparently -- and bizarrely -- Australia feels differently.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's reaction to Zhao's tweet, a political cartoon in a format that is commonplace across the Western world, is stunning and revealing.

By obsessing over factually inspired illustrations, Morrison as well as other Australian politicians and media have displayed their utter lack of dignity. Their responses -- when compared to their reactions to the war crimes themselves -- make certain Australian politicians look heartless.

The double standard is clear: When a political cartoon from the Western world offends the third world, that's freedom of speech. But the reverse is disinformation.

The details revealed by the Australian Department of Defence report are gruesome and undisputed, including the "killing of many men (and sometimes women and children)," and "bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river."

Hua Chunying, another spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, quoted these details on Wednesday at a press briefing. As she sharply pointed out, if some in Australia are unable to stand the graphic that Zhao tweeted, the truth depicted in photos and videos online can only be described as even more horrific.

Morrison and many others may have wrongly believed that only self-styled liberal democracies such as Australia and the United States are allowed to point fingers at human rights abuses internationally, and that colorful but solid criticism from China, under a different political system, is unacceptably offensive.

Canberra has initiated domestic proceedings on these war crimes, in moves that have been seen as forestalling jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court. Both Australia and Afghanistan are party to the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, which can claim jurisdiction.

Whether the cases are prosecuted under the Rome Statute or Australia's own Commonwealth Criminal Code, the criminal responsibility up the Australian chain of command will be key -- some in the upper echelons either knew or should have known the particulars. With the case under wraps, Canberra bears the responsibility of transparency: It must thoroughly and comprehensively reveal the truth, including the appropriation of responsibility and criminality.

This is not an unwarranted call, as inhumane acts of such a scale are likely to be bred in a peculiar military culture. "I don't know how you can read it and come away thinking 'It's just a few bad people,'" Samantha Crompvoets, the military sociologist whose early internal report canvassed disturbing allegations of war crimes and triggered the expose, told The Guardian Australia.

Just a few "bad apples" or not, Canberra must work to get to the bottom of the matter and ensure the tragedies are never repeated. That should be its focus now, rather than launching a temper tantrum at Beijing.

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