Prime Minister Scott Morrison is using short term political tactics to dictate Australia's foreign policy with China, opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says.
Speaking to reporters after addressing an Australian Institute of International Affairs conference on Monday, Senator Wong said the coalition government didn't have a China strategy.
"What the government is doing is lurching from one press conference to another around a series of unplanned, domestic political tactics," Senator Wong said.
Senator Wong told the conference Australia's relationship with China was getting harder to manage under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
She said Labor wanted to handle the relationship in a bipartisan way, something the Morrison government appeared to have no motivation to do.
Senator Wong said China had a right to develop and a right to a role in the region, but the differences with Australia's systems and values would affect the nature of the relationship.
This meant having "sensible, calm and mature" discussions between Labor and the Morrison government without seeking political advantage.
"It also means speaking out where it is in the national interest to do so," she said.
"And given the instincts of this prime minister, I anticipate speaking out will become more necessary."
She said Mr Morrison deflected legitimate questions about Victorian Liberal MP Gladys Liu's links to China by accusing Labor of a "racial smear", a similar tactic used by the Chinese government's propaganda arm whenever it faced criticism over its possible influence in foreign politics.
Mr Morrison used his recent trip to the US to declare China a "developed country" while at a Trump rally playing into Beijing's rhetoric that Australia is a "US pawn".
She also accused Mr Morrison of repeating US nationalist talking points in his recent Lowy lecture.
"You can't be pro-free trade and anti-globalist," Senator Wong said.
"Even if Scott Morrison seeks to follow President Trump in closing Australia to immigration, he can never close Australia to trade."
She pointed to Mr Morrison's first foray into international affairs when he wanted to change Australia's longstanding, bipartisan position over Jerusalem and the Iran nuclear deal in order to chase votes in the Wentworth by-election.
"The prime minister is simply trying to distract and divert," she said.
"There's no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now. He is the master of the political manoeuvre, but he hasn't delivered anything of substance, because that's not who he is".
Australian Associated Press