Foreign policy expert questions Trade Minister Damien O'Connor's credentials after diplomatic blunder with Australia over China

A top foreign policy academic has questioned the new Trade Minister's competency after a diplomatic blunder in which Damien O'Connor told Australia to "show respect" to China.

O'Connor's since called his Australian counterpart but is refusing to say if he apologised.

It was an undiplomatic doozy from the new Trade Minister, telling Australia to show respect to China and maybe that would help fix their trade war.

"Clearly if they were to follow us and show respect - I guess, a little more diplomacy from time to time and be cautious with wording - then they too could hopefully be in a similar situation," he said.

Australia and China are in the middle of a bitter trade dispute, with Beijing imposing tariffs and restrictions on Australian exports despite the two countries having a free-trade agreement.

O'Connor was asked about it on American cable news.

"I can't speak for Australia and the way it runs its diplomatic relationships, but..." he said, before deciding to just that.

It's angered Australian politicians, and saw us dubbed "New Xi-Land" by Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

"It suggests that the problem is Australia's; that Australia has caused this breakdown in the relationship with China, and that it's up to Australia to change its approach," said Robert Ayson, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University.

"He was stepping into a territory that he really didn't belong."

The Trade Minister has since called his Australian counterpart, but won't say whether he apologised.

In a statement, he said he called to reiterate that "we do not speak for Australia on this or any other matter".

But his blunder's left experts questioning whether he's the best pick for Trade Minister.

"He's not one of the leading lights of Cabinet," Prof Ayson said.

And he suggests O'Connor take his own advice - "show respect, be cautious with wording" - when talking about other countries' foreign policy.