Trade Minister Steve Ciobo seems to have emerged at the China lobby's apparent inside man in the government, parroting Beijing's line on the South China Sea. Based on the precedent set by the ousting of Labor's Sam Dastyari, it's unclear why he hasn't been forced to recant, or been sacked.

In an extraordinary interview yesterday on Sky News, Ciobo refused repeatedly to offer a position on China's aggression in the South China Sea, and even refused to endorse the view of his own colleague, Defence Minister Marise Payne. China has recently upped its militarisation of illegal artificial islands in the South China Sea with long-range bombers. Australia, which maintains neutrality on the South China Sea territorial dispute but supports international law, expressed concern about it. "We urge all claimants to refrain from destabilising actions, including the deployment of advanced military equipment to disputed features,” Payne said on Monday, repeating the government's (bipartisan) line on the issue. “We have raised our concerns about militarisation in the South China Sea as part of our enduring, broad dialogue with China.”