The prime minister has declared Australia will always stand its ground, even if it comes at the cost of trade relations with China.
Scott Morrison has been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for a global inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
But he has brushed off the criticism.
“We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“We will always be Australians in how we engage with the rest of the world, and we will always stand our ground when it comes to the things that we believe in and the values that we uphold.”
Beijing has suspended beef imports from four abattoirs and plans to slap huge tariffs on Australian barley, after warning the inquiry push could destroy two-way trade.
Mr Morrison acknowledged it was a difficult time for beef and barley exporters.
“We will just work through all the normal channels,” he said.
“We’ve always been available to make it very clear that Australia will always do the right thing when it comes to respecting other country’s laws.
“The great thing about sovereignty is we always respect the sovereignty of other nations and we simply expect the same in return. And I think that’s a pretty fair deal.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has declared Australia will continue pushing for the coronavirus inquiry.
Mr Dutton said families of coronavirus victims have legitimate questions that need to be answered in a transparent way.
“Australia’s done nothing more than stand up for our values and we will consistently do that,” he said.
Labor supports the government’s calls for a coronavirus inquiry but has criticised its messaging on China-Australia relations.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says the prime minister should lead the debate and be more clear and consistent.
“I think it is regrettable that much of this debate is being framed and led by conservative backbenchers, trying to outdo each other as to who can be more strident on China,” she told ABC radio.
“I don’t think that serves the national interest.”
Senator Wong believes the inflammatory comments have been squarely aimed at a domestic audience.
“We need to think less about domestic political interest from the prime minister down. We need to be focusing on the national interest.”