Behind the shattered image of China’s relationship with Australia is “Wolf Warrior” advocate Wuheqilin.
Known for creating graphic propaganda art, his fake digitally manipulated depiction of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child triggered international outrage.
It appeared on a tweet from “Wolf Warrior” pack leader Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, turning a trade row into a toxic diplomatic incident.
“I was shocked by [the] murder of Afghan civilians [and] prisoners,” Wuheqilin said in a video post on Sky News, referring to a report released last month that “credible information” existed that war crimes were committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Findings released from the Australian Defence Force inquiry have since “recommended” a police investigation into the allegations, dating from 2009 to 2013.
‘Culture of secrecy’
“A culture of secrecy, fabrication, and deceit has cast a heavy shadow over the legacy of the Australian special forces deployment in Afghanistan, with a landmark inquiry recommending 19 soldiers be investigated by police for the ‘murder’ of 39 prisoners and civilians, and the cruel treatment of two others,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on November 17.
Still, China’s decision to wade into the controversy is seen as Beijing’s latest attempt to target Canberra’s human rights record as it simultaneously ramps up pressure on bilateral trade.
It is also viewed as another example of President Xi Jinping’s ultra-nationalistic diplomacy seen through the prism of millions of social media trolls.
Already relations between the two countries are at breaking point after Canberra called for an independent inquiry into the source of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak last year.
The Australian government has also raised concerns about human rights violations against Muslim Uighurs in the enclave of Xinjiang province and the dismantling of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy in Hong Kong.
In response, Beijing has denied using “bullying” tactics and accused Canberra of interfering in “its domestic affairs.”
“My mission is to spread truth and inspire patriotism. We are forced to fight this battle,” Wuheqilin, who has been credited with creating a new genre of patriotic political art, said.
“Western countries have monopolized information for a long time. We’ve already lost in terms of information channels,” he added.
Yet those comments lack any kind of credibility. In China, the Great Firewall blocks the content of major international media groups while domestic artistic expression highlighting Communist Party repression is silenced.
Celebrated writer Fang Fang has even been singled out and ostracised in a digital Cultural Revolution for daring to publish an acclaimed diary about life during the four-month Wuhan lockdown.
The 65-year-old acclaimed author lived through that nightmare when the Covid-19 virus first surfaced in the city nearly a year ago.
“Before the novel coronavirus engulfed Wuhan, Fang Fang was already an award-winning novelist of realist fiction. But her chronicle of the lockdown of her hometown might be her most lasting work,” Emily Feng, the Beijing correspondent of National Public Radio or NPR, wrote in a review of Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City.
Yet for Wuheqilin, she became a target of derision in an artwork entitled, Crown a Jester. It shows a woman dressed as a clown kneeling and handing a blood-splattered book pierced by a knife to a man who is holding a dog collar.
During an interview with the Chinese news portal Guancha in June, he confirmed that the piece was dedicated to “China’s most influential author.”
Still, his depiction of an Australian soldier has not only inflamed an already volatile diplomatic dispute, revolving around China’s abysmal human rights record, but thrust him into the international spotlight.
“I heard that [Australia’s Prime Minister Scott] Morrison is very upset about my work?” Wuheqilin said after sharing the image, entitled Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace?, on China’s Twitter-like Weibo after the PM branded it “repugnant” and “truly offensive.”
“In this special period when the West is using its power to dominate discourse to press [China] harder, I think we need more literary works that convey the will of our country and people,” he told Guancha, parroting Xi’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy while blurring fact with fiction by disregarding the “truth.”