Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has described China as a "benevolent tyranny" and argued Australia must maintain a "wide-eyed view" of where the world is going.
"They are not a democracy - they're basically a benevolent tyranny," he told the Seven Network on Monday.
"I think Australia has to obviously recognise the economic strength and trade with them, but we want to trade with them as a partner, not as a servant."
Mr Joyce said Australia must recognise and adapt to the United States drifting away from its traditional role of overseeing international peace.
"We have to not be scared, not react, but clearly have a clear, wide-eyed view of exactly where the world is going, and how we're going to play our part inside it."
A visit to Sydney Harbour last week from three Chinese warships has stirred up tensions over how the cabinet is approaching the relationship with the growing giant.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was reportedly unaware the ships were coming to dock at the Garden Island naval base.
Mr Joyce said she should have been told - echoing comments Labor leader Anthony Albanese made last week.
Backbench Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, previously a junior minister in the foreign affairs area, also criticised the cabinet's approach to China, saying they had been "totally outmanoeuvred" by Beijing.