Scott Morrison has denied stoking tensions with China for domestic political gain.
Labor has accused the prime minister of indulging in unprecedented political opportunism and endangering Australia's relationship with China in the process.
Mr Morrison rejected the accusation, but seemed to reinforce the argument by referencing political parties several times.
"Australians can always rely on the Liberals and the Nationals, the coalition government, to do what's right in Australia's national security interests," he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
"Under a coalition government, we will always stand up for Australia."
Mr Morrison also played up the apparent partisan divide by emphasising his government's spending on national security and defence.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the prime minister was using foreign policy for domestic benefit, casually flitting between naivety and belligerence.
"My concern is not only does he not fully comprehend Australia's interests in relation to China, he doesn't even seek to," she said.
"It's always about the domestic political advantage - either in the internal fights within the Liberal Party in pandering to the far right, or in seeking to pursue some partisan advantage over the Labor Party."
Senator Wong also criticised the prime minister for confusing Australia's policy on Taiwan for its position on Hong Kong, before doubling down rather than correcting his mistake.
And she condemned Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo for his "drums of war" speech on Anzac Day, as well as Defence Minister Peter Dutton for talking up the likelihood of war over Taiwan.
"Hysteria - couched in terms of preparing Australians for coming challenges - actually works in Beijing's favour," Senator Wong said in Canberra.
"It allows the threat of war itself to be used as a political tactic.
"So two of the people most responsible for keeping Australians safe are instead talking tough for political purposes - and in doing so they are playing directly into the Communist Party of China's narrative - and providing Beijing with the leverage that comes with a sense of inevitability about crisis, conflict and war."
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said two issues most often raised with him in meetings with business leaders were China relations and energy.
"Our critique of the government in this regard is they have failed to plan for a more assertive China," he said.
"This is obviously an incredibly complex, difficult, evolving relationship, and what it requires is calm, considered, purposeful, thoughtful leadership - and even the prime minister's friends don't describe him in those terms."
Australian Associated Press