SINGAPORE – Australia needs to hold its own and defend its interests in the face of mounting pressure from China, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday.

The relationship between the two major trading partners has been strained in recent years, but has deteriorated over the past year when Australia backed a call for China to conduct an international investigation into early treatment of Covid-19.

“From our point of view, we have to recognize that there is a pressure game going on at the moment to force Australia to be more compliant,” Turnbull told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” as part of the network coverage of the Davos agenda.

“It’s totally instrumental – the outrage, anger, and anger you see in places like the Global Times are all completely calculated and instrumental,” he said, adding that Australia is just asserting itself and “defending our values, must defend “our interests and show that bullying and coercion will not work. “

“Once this is demonstrated, it will fall off,” said Turnbull.

The Chinese state-owned Global Times published an opinion article this week describing Australia as “the culprit for broken bilateral relations”. The article listed several issues that were claimed to have exacerbated it, including the decision to exclude Huawei from the Australian 5G rollout that took place during Turnbull’s tenure, as well as Australia’s remarks on China’s presence in the South China Sea.

China took several measures in the past year to restrict Australian imports, from imposing new tariffs to imposing bans. Canberra called on the World Trade Organization to mediate in a dispute over strict tariffs on Australian barley in the Chinese market.

Australia is one of the few industrial nations in the world that exports more than it imports to China.

Canberra leaders have said Australia will continue to stand up for its national interests, despite hoping that tense relations with Beijing will improve. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly said he was open to meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping if no conditions were placed.

Turnbull stated that in dealing with China, Australia “needs to recognize that there are limits to trust, there are some areas where collaboration and cooperation will flow very, very freely”.

“There are other areas like telecommunications where there are major national security problems and vulnerabilities where we are taking a different approach. China is taking exactly the same approach,” he said, adding that each country assesses its own priorities and its own sets limits of trust. “You just have to respect them and work with them.”

Speaking to the World Economic Forum on Monday, Xi urged the international community to put their differences aside and allow multilateralism as the way forward.