Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged public servants to "keep up the dialogue" with their Chinese counterparts, amid rising political tensions between Australia and China.
Meanwhile, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson says China is "mistaken" to think it can bully the rest of the world.
Mr Morrison was asked for "centralised guidance" for public servants who had direct working relationships with Chinese officials, during the APS200 virtual forum on Wednesday.
China has launched trade strikes on products like beef, wine and barley as relations have deteriorated with Australia.
Chinese ministers have refused to take phone calls from Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud over the bans.
A list of grievances provided to the media last week by unnamed Chinese embassy officials alleges the country is aggrieved by Australia's calls for an inquiry into the origin of COVID-19, accusations of cyber attacks and banning the rollout of 5G from Huawei.
But Mr Morrison said he expected public servants to continue to engage with their counterparts in other countries, including China, "as they always have".
"Our public officials are not burdened with the overlays of international relations in the same way ministers or prime ministers are," Mr Morrison said.
"I think one of the advantages that you would have is to be able to engage on the technical, on the direct, leverage on the relationships that you already have.
"And I would see that as an important connection, particularly at a time when there are tensions and of course, there are tensions. And in those circumstances, we rely more on these official engagements - these officials' level of engagements.
"There's just no need, I think, at the sort of level that officials are engaging at, that they just need to be drawn in to those other questions."
Mr Morrison said he did not expect public servants to resolve Australia's issues with China.
"That falls to me and ministers and others," Mr Morrison said.
"Keep up the connections and do all you can to improve them and keep the dialogue going at that level, because business and industry are relying on that to to enable us to try and mitigate the impact of some of these measures that are being introduced.
"Stick within the lines. Obviously, they set out what those lines are and you'd know them better than what I would in those areas, and just keep working it as if the other stuff is things that go on between politicians and leaders. That's not something that should have to trouble the working relationship that you're engaged in."
Separately, DFAT head Frances Adamson told the ANU Security College it was not clear China had "carefully considered other countries' reactions to its conduct internationally".
"China may have reached a point where it believes that it can largely set the terms of its future engagement with the world," Ms Adamson said.
"If it has, it is mistaken - and that is because there is far more to be gained for China, and for everyone else, through working constructively and collaboratively within the international system, without resort to pressure or coercion."
Earlier this week, Mr Morrison told the Policy Exchange in the UK many of Australia's current tensions with China were based on "misunderstandings", including about the South China Sea.
"I think one of the key misunderstandings is a level of confidence about what we see as the end result. Our end result from Australia's point of view, as I said, is not containment, our end result is happy coexistence, respecting each other's sovereignty and systems and being able to happily coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship," Mr Morrison said.
"I believe that's where both parties of this relationship have a lot more work to do, to get to that shared understanding of what we see the ultimate goal as being.
"But I do think all of these things are heavily clouded and distorted by the overwhelming influence of these strategic competitions and the tensions that arise from that between the United States and China."
He signalled a hope that the relationship would change with the election of Joe Biden.