Wong outlines plans on China relations

Labor is standing strong on human rights and trade issues as it charts a course for Australia's strained relationship with China.

In her first major policy speech since becoming foreign minister, Penny Wong delivered the Whitlam Oration on Sunday, highlighting her efforts to ease tensions with the Asian superpower.

Blaming the previous coalition government for the breakdown of relations between the two countries, Senator Wong said Labor will seek co-operation while fiercely protecting Australia's national interests.

Senator Wong has twice met her Chinese counterpart to re-establish dialogue after almost three years of a diplomatic freeze between the countries.

"In those meetings, I expressed Australia's views candidly on a range of bilateral trade, consular and human rights issues, as well as regional and international security," she said.

"And I have said to (China's foreign minister Wang Yi) that Australia's approach will be calm and consistent.

"We seek to co-operate where we can and will disagree where we must. And we will engage in our national interests."

However, Senator Wong vowed Australia would continue to stand firm on human rights, with national security issues remaining paramount.

"Stabilising our relationship is in the interests of both Australia and China. It will take time because our differences are not trivial," Senator Wong said.

"I have made it plain that we will speak out as necessary on the issues that matter to Australians, including human rights and upholding the international rules to which we have all agreed."

China's $20 billion trade sanctions on many Australian goods, including barley, beef and wine, will also continue to factor into the diplomatic thaw.

"I have been clear that we believe the removal of impediments to Australian exports and the full resumption of our bilateral trade would greatly benefit both Australia and China," she said.

Australia will also work to redefine its "overbearing" role among the Pacific nations, re-engaging as an "enthusiastic and dedicated member" as one of the government's highest priorities.

"We want to be partners, not patriarchs," Senator Wong said.

"Rather than lurching from absent to overbearing, Albanese Labor seek to be better, more involved and more helpful members of the Pacific family."

The commitment has already seen the foreign minister prioritise visits to Pacific Islands countries, with missions to Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Cook Islands, Niue, French Polynesia, and Fiji during the past six months.

As part of the Pacific rebuild, Australia has acknowledged the region's climate change concerns bringing new energy and resources and committing $900 million in development assistance, with additional support for infrastructure.

"Our message is we are listening; we hear you, and we hear you when you say that climate change is a threat to your very existence," Senator Wong said.

"We know that as family, we have a special responsibility to act."

Western Sydney University hosts The Whitlam Institute, and the inaugural oration was given in 2011 by then-prime minister Julia Gillard.