Australia

Think before you speak on China: Birmingham’s advice after 'Nazi Germany' comments

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Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says people should think before they speak on sensitive foreign policy matters.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has issued some advice to his coalition colleagues: think before you speak.

It came after Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie compared the rise of China to that of Nazi Germany in an opinion piece last week, drawing a mixed reaction from his coalition colleagues and condemnation from Beijing.

"I would certainly encourage any colleague or indeed anybody making comments around sensitive foreign policy matters to pose a couple of questions," he told ABC's Insiders program on Sunday.

"Is the making of those comments in a public way necessary? Is it helpful to Australia's national interests?"

In the case of China, he said the national interest was best served by ensuring Australia engaged in a constructive way to make sure it was a responsible citizen in the region and globally, and respected the sovereignty of other nations.

Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles admits China is a complex issue, given its economic ties with Australia and how it asserts itself in the region.

"That does present challenges for us," Mr Marles told Sky News, while describing Mr Hastie's comments as "incendiary".

"There isn't a cold war going on here, China is not the Soviet Union."

Labor calls for bipartisan approach on China

The deputy opposition leader believes there must be a bipartisan approach to how Australia handles the growing power of China.

Mr Marles said it was very important that Australia was confident enough speak its mind and assert its national interest when it might differ from Chinese action.

He said if there was to be a settled approach to China, there needed to be a bigger discussion between the government and the opposition, given Australia's federal governments have three-year terms.

"We have got to have a settled position going forward over the next few decades and that does require bipartisanship," he said.

Senator Birmingham said the government already gave the opposition with briefings "when required".

"Of course we will work with the opposition where it is appropriate to do so," he said.

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