The editor of China's state-run English language newspaper has posted an incendiary piece calling Prime Minister Scott Morrison "ridiculously arrogant" and saying he should "slap himself in the face" on live television.
The searing editorial comes after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a doctored image on Twitter showing an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of a young child holding a lamb.
"Don't be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace," the caption reads.
The image references the Brereton report that alleged elite Australian soldiers had carried out war crimes including the killings of 39 Afghans in a series of incidents that are being referred for special investigation and potential prosecution.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted swiftly and unequivocally to the image being shared on social media, calling it "truly repugnant", calling for an apology from the Chinese government and asking the social media giant to take it down.
"It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform, every Australian who serves in that uniform today, everyone who has pulled on that uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation, that they have done that. It is utterly outrageous and it cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever," he said in a virtual press conference on Monday.
"The Chinese Government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes."
But Global Times editor Hu Xijin has hit back, saying Australia is a country at the "urban-rural fringe of Western civilisation where gangsters roamed".
He accused the country of becoming a "Western hatchet man" and said he was "really shocked and disgusted" to see Morrison's reaction.
"How could this Australian PM be so ridiculously arrogant to pick on Chinese FM spokesperson's condemnation against the murder of innocent people? Is the murder fake news? Shouldn't that illustrator have made the cartoon? Didn't the Chinese FM spokesman have the right to repost that cartoon to censure Australian troops' murder of innocent Afghan civilians?
"Morrison should kneel down on the ground, slap himself in the face, and kowtow to apologise to Afghans – all these should be done in a live telecast. No matter what harsh words people use on them for the murder, the Australian government should have accepted it. How dare they talk back and say they are offended!" the article said.
He also accused the Morrison government of being "akin to a mafia" and said people should be sent to temples to "heal their evil minds and murderous mentality".
"More precisely, they should run as far as they can. The Morrison administration is making Australia provocative and wanting a spanking."
It echoes other Chinese officials who have doubled down on the criticism, with fellow Foreign Minister spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying on Monday, Australian anger was misdirected.
"The Australian side has reacted so strongly to my colleague's Twitter, does that mean that they think the cold blood murder of Afghan innocent civilians is justified while other people's condemnation of such crimes are not justified?" she said.
"Afghan lives matter. The Australian government should bring the culprits to justice and offer an official apology to the Afghan people and make the solemn pledge that they will never repeat such crimes.
"They said that the Chinese government should feel ashamed. It is Australian soldiers who committed such cruel crimes. Shouldn't the Australian government feel ashamed? Shouldn't they feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians?"
The furore marks a new low point in Australian-Chinese relations that have significantly deteriorated in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia provoked Chinese ire by calling for an independent investigation into the source of the virus, leading to a series of trade measures carried out by China against beef, barley and wine.
Just last week the country slapped anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine, a move that Trade Minister Simon Birmingham blasted as "grossly unfair, unwarranted, unjustified".
He said the government would raise the issue with the World Trade Organisation.
Earlier this month Chinese officials gave a dossier to Australian media outlining 14 grievances, saying "if you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy".
Morrison has previously said Australia won't compromise on foreign investment laws designed to protect national security such as control of the 5G network.