Australian global development minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said Beijing's influence in the region was "clearly growing", but criticised its development assistance as resulting in "white elephants".
Unlike Fierravanti-Wells, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has used more restrained language when discussing the issue, saying that Canberra "welcomes" investment in the development of the Pacific nations, but which does not impose "onerous debt burdens" on regional governments.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang slammed the remarks during a regular press briefing, calling them "full of ignorance and prejudice".
China has lodged an official complaint with Australia after a Turnbull government minister attacked Beijing's aid program in the Pacific.
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China lodged a formal diplomatic protest on Wednesday after a senior Australian minister called Chinese infrastructure projects in the Pacific "white elephants", the latest spat in increasingly contentious relations.
"You've got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which no body maintains, which are basically white elephants", she told the newspaper.
Liberal frontbencher Josh Frydenberg said Senator Fierravanti-Wells had made relevant points. The diplomat added that Australia works with its partners in the region, including China, in an attempt to "eliminate poverty".
Lu said China "fully respects the will of the Pacific islands' governments and their people".
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Australia's opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said on Wednesday that Fierravanti-Wells' comments demonstrated the Australian government's clumsy approach to foreign policy.
China is Australia's largest trading partner, with two-way trade of goods between the nations in the year to June 30, 2017, reaching A$157 billion ($123 billion).
She also expressed concerns about the sustainability of China's loan arrangements with the island nations.
"We hope that certain people in Australia should engage in self-refection instead of pointing fingers at and making irresponsible remarks about other countries", Lu added.
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Pacific countries including Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa were "already experiencing significant debt stress as a result of taking out these major loans", he said.