Labor deputy defends comments on China

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Labor's deputy leader has defended comments he made in relation to China's human rights abuses.

Senior coalition figures have criticised Richard Marles as being "soft" on China and comfortable with its increasing economic and military role in the Indo-Pacific region.

Mr Marles said the Liberal-National coalition's criticism of him was an attempt to distract from their failure to properly manage Australia's relationships in the Pacific, particularly with the Solomon Islands.

Asked why he praised China's human rights records during a public Q&A session in 2017, Mr Marles said he had always raised human rights issues with China.

"I've made my position really clear on China's failings and their human rights treatment of Uyghurs, in their management of Hong Kong. I've always raised ... been prepared to publicly do that in China," he told reporters in Geelong on Tuesday.

"Now, show me the government minister who has gone to China and done that."

Labor has accused the coalition of chest-beating when it comes to China's influence in the Pacific region but not taking action against its influence.

"The agreement that has now been reached between Solomon Islands and China, on Scott Morrison's watch raises a very real risk of Chinese military presence in the Pacific," Mr Marles said.

"That is a very negative development for Australia, that changes Australia's national security framework and that makes Australians less safe."

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