Anthony Albanese says a more aggressive China requires the Australian government to take a more subtle approach than talking up conflict.
Recently installed Defence Minister Peter Dutton and home affairs chief Mike Pezzullo have talked about the “drums of war”, amid growing tensions with Beijing.
“We need to recognise that China has got more aggressive and we need to recognise that China is responsible for changing the relationship,” the Labor leader told a business forum at Parliament House on Thursday.
“But it doesn’t mean you can’t have an economic relationship, as governments in the past have done.”
He said China’s focus on its own interests under Xi Jinping required “a response in terms of our national sovereignty and national interests”.
He said it was in no one’s interest to “talk up conflict” but Australia needs to make sure it recognises competition between the world’s two great powers.
“We should always speak up for human rights, we should always speak up for our own interests, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adopt a position which is consistent with the position of the Biden administration.”
The US president has talked about “competition not catastrophe”.
“That is the key,” Mr Albanese said.
“We picked a side under Labor, when we formed the US alliance, and were right to do so, to have those relationships with our democratic partners.”
China deserved enormous credit for lifting more people out of poverty over recent decades than anything seen in human history, the Labor leader said.