Former foreign minister Alexander Downer says Australia needs to be more self-confident in its dealings with China, but there has to be mutual empathy.
China needs to better understand Australia's position and practice mutual empathy, not just demands to kowtow, Alexander Downer believes.
Australia's longest-serving foreign minister says while the Chinese ambassador recently said Australia was dependent on the giant Asian economy, it needed us just as much.
"China can't drive its economy as it has done without secure supplies of raw materials and food and Australia has been a very, very important part of China's growth story," Mr Downer told the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.
"China needs to remember that this is a relationship of mutual benefit and we are not going to China begging for forgiveness for something that Malcolm Turnbull may have said during a by-election or whatever."
The relationship with China has been tense over recent times and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the only leader in modern times not to have been invited to visit Beijing within his first year in power.
But Mr Downer's counsel was to let it be.
"If they want to invite our prime minister, fine, I'm sure he would be happy to go. If they don't, that's fine as well, life will go on."
He said Australia had to be more self-confident but also be clear and consistent in its dealings with China.
But that cut both ways too.
"We understand your Confucian culture, we understand your history of civil war, invasion, occupation, humiliation ... you must understand us as well," he said.
"This is about mutual empathy not simply empathy.
"When they do things we really profoundly disapprove of, they need to understand why we would disapprove of them and not try and bully us."