Scott Morrison will refuse to meet his Chinese counterpart if Beijing demands concessions before talks begin.
Australian industries are under threat from an ongoing trade war between Canberra and Beijing, which has seen China slap trade sanctions on a number of Australian products.
The prime minister confirmed he was open to meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to salvage the relationship, which he said remained vital to both parties.
But after China leaked a dossier of 14 grievances with Canberra last November, Mr Morrison warned discussions would not come at the cost of Canberra kowtowing to Beijing’s demands.
“Those discussions, as I’ve made clear, won’t take place on the base of any sort of pre-emptive concessions on Australia’s part on those matters,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I don’t think that any Australian would want their prime minister to be conceding the points that they’ve set out.
“Our position on that is very clear, it’s very honest, it’s very transparent.
“But of course we value the trading and more broader comprehensive relationship, and we will be taking up whatever opportunities we believe is going to best position Australia to be in a position to advance that relationship.”
Beijing was angered by Canberra’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 early last year, and Labor has accused the government of exposing Australia by leading the charge without sufficient international backing.
But Mr Morrison said relations had soured over a number of years, and could not be attributed to any one development.
Relations have shown no signs of improving recently, after Beijing launched an attack on Canberra at the United Nations last week, accusing Australia of “racism” and hypocrisy over human rights.
The comments, made at a review of Australia’s human rights record, were a breach of UN protocols and drew the ire of Coalition MPs.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has urged Mr Morrison to enlist the help of former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and John Howard in dealing with Beijing.
With a raft of Australian industries in Beijing’s firing line, Mr Albanese said Mr Rudd’s “significant relationships” with the Biden administration and international experience dealing would be an asset.
“To be clear, it is China that is to blame for breaking down that relationship,” he told reporters on Monday.
“But you need to find a way through, and I think that it is very sensible to engage former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and John Howard.
“That is a suggestion that has come to me from senior people in the business community, as well as people in the union movement who have been worried about jobs.”
Mr Morrison confirmed he was “open” to the idea, but said he would continue to pursue the relationship in Australia’s interest.
“(The relationship with Beijing) is a matter that the former prime minister Howard and I have discussed on many occasions. I speak to him pretty regularly about these and many other things,” he said.
“It’s a topic that some time ago, and even more recently, I was connecting with prime minister Rudd about these matters.
“I’m always open to those who are experienced in these areas and both of those former prime ministers are experienced in those areas.”