THE Coalition government has no overall strategy to guide its relationship or interactions with China, a Labor senator says.
Repairing the relationship with Australia's largest trading partner, with about 40 per cent of exports heading to China, will be among the biggest challenges for the federal government in 2021.
Labor senator Tim Ayres, who grew up in Glen Innes, NSW, said the trade conflict would be disproportionately felt in regional Australia.
"They're not harvesting barley, beef or wine grapes in the big cities, it's happening in the bush and those are the areas targeted by the Chinese government trade sanctions," Senator Ayres said.
As the dispute has grown, with tariffs or unofficial bans on barely, timber, coal, lobster and timber, Senator Ayres said it was clear there was no overall strategy to deal with the relationship.
"The government is not reacting in a careful strategic way. It's just responding to the most recent event or the most recent provocation," he said.
"It's just reacting to events, that's all 2020 was, just the Prime Minister reacting to events."
Comments from Coalition backbenchers have inflamed the situation and undermined the government's position, Senator Ayres said.
"There's been too much letting the crazies on the backbench do the talking," he said.
"They've been let off the leash and there's no effort from the frontbench to discipline them or reign them in."
Senator Ayres said the lack of strategy also extended to diversifying the nation's export markets.
"It is absolutely apparent that aside from the rhetoric flourish, there is no real plan to diversify trade relations," Senator Ayres said.
"Where is the investment in diplomats and trade staff in relation to new markets?"
At the end of last year, the Commonwealth committed more than $72 million to expanding and diversifying markets for Australian farming, forestry and fishing exporters.
The free-trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom and the European Union are expected to pick up this year, while the FTA signed with Indonesia at the start of last year is due to ramp up in 2021.