Former prime minister Tony Abbott has hit out at China, saying Australia and the Asian superpower do not share common values, despite being closely linked by trade.
Speaking in Japan overnight, Abbott made the remarks while also commenting on the communist nation's actions in a disputed area of the South China Sea where it has built artificial islands and is said to be ramping up its military assets.
"While we now have more flights from China than from any other country, and while our economy is more closely tied to China's than to any other, it's still an interests partnership rather than a values one," Abbott said.
"We rely on China to take increasing quantities of Australian raw materials, and we're happy to be a source of resource, energy and food security.
"We're proud of the Chinese people who've made their home in our country and become fine Australians. But we aren't entirely confident that when China's interests differ from Australia's, there is a shared set of values that will allow a mutually satisfactory outcome."
He said China's actions in the South China Sea were jeopardising the safety of the region.
"Countries which turn reefs into artificial islands at massive environmental cost, fortify disputed territory, and try to restrict freedom of navigation are putting at risk the stability and security on which depends the prosperity of our region and the wider world," Abbott said.
The speech is likely to renew speculation that Abbott's high profile since losing the prime ministership represents either an effort to shore up his legacy or is his way of biding time until another tilt at the top job.
Melbourne University's Pradeep Taneja said it was not the first time Abbott had talked about differences in values between Australia and China.
Taneja said China had been engaged in activities in the contested waters in violation of international laws.
"Clearly, there are differences in values, particularly political values, but it doesn't stop countries from doing business with each other. The Chinese have expressed their concerns about growing military ties between Australia and the United States," he told ABC television.
"China needs to explain to the region, explain to the rest of the world what China's ultimate objectives are in the region."
On Friday, former defence minister and Labor leader Kim Beazley weighed into the debate, saying that Australia should conduct routine freedom of navigation exercises through the contested waters.
Abbott's comments in Tokyo come amid reports the former PM will make a defense of his short-lived prime ministership in an upcoming edition of the conservative journal Quadrant.
Fairfax Media reports that in the essay Abbott writes that his administration suffered from a "hysterical opposition", "populist Senate crossbench" and "poisonous media".
Malcolm Turnbull deposed Abbott in September last year to become the nation's 29th prime minister after months of speculation about the coalition leadership.
Suggest a correction