Beijing on Tuesday asked the Australian premier to avoid "irresponsible remarks" after Anthony Albanese said China is getting "more forward-leaning in our region."
In a doorstep interview at the Torrejon Air Base in Madrid, where he is attending a NATO summit, Albanese said China's "aggressive" stance requires the world to show it is prepared "to stand in solidarity."
By giving the example of unity the West has shown since Russia's war on Ukraine, which began in February, he hinted at a possible global reaction if China moves to invade Taiwan.
China describes self-ruled Taiwan, an island nation of over 24 million people, as its breakaway province and has not ruled out reunification through the use of force.
Asked what message he wanted to hear from NATO members about China, the newly elected Australian premier said: "Well, that I'm sure that the NATO members know that China is more forward-leaning in our region.
"China has been prepared to make sanctions not just against Australia, but to be more aggressive in its stance in the world and it requires the world to move towards peace and security but to do so in a way which says that we are prepared as democratic nations to ensure that when something happens, like the invasion of Ukraine, the world is prepared to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and provide practical and real support."
"We have repeatedly stated China's position on the Ukraine crisis," Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, told a news conference in Beijing.
Emphasizing that Taiwan "is not Ukraine, and there is no comparison between the two," Zhao said: "Taiwan is not a sovereign state either … We hope that the politicians concerned will not make irresponsible remarks."
Albanese is one of the four leaders who have been invited to attend the NATO summit alongside those of Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Besides disagreements over trade, relations between Beijing and Canberra have grown frosty in recent years after the latter called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
China has called for an end to the war but has not condemned Russia. It has also decried one-sided Western sanctions on Moscow.