Melbourne: Australia`s former prime minister John Howard has slammed the federal government, accusing it of causing "gratuitous damage" to Canberra`s ties with China.
"I think gratuitous damage has been done to Australia`s relationship with China, by both (Kevin) Rudd and (Julia) Gillard," Howard said.
"Every Australian prime minister from Gough Whitlam onwards saw the importance (of Chinese relations) and each in their own way made a contribution," Howard, who was a guest speaker at Britain`s Oxford Union recently, was quoted as saying by the Australian news agency AAP.
Prime Minister for more than 11 years, Howard`s coalition government lost office to Mandarin-speaking Rudd`s Labor Party in November 2007.
"Whitlam ... Malcolm Fraser was a very strong supporter of the relationship with China, as was (Bob) Hawke, as was (Paul) Keating, as I was. I thought we did a good job with not only building a relationship with the Americans, but also getting close to the Chinese," Howard said.
"Something seems to have been mishandled by (the current government) and we seem to be irritating the Chinese for reasons that escape me."
Howard said his concerns do not stretch to a fear of China. "(It is) not that I see the Chinese as a threat, I don`t. I think the Chinese are too preoccupied with internal issues," he said.
"I think we underestimate their territorial ties with the region. They`ll push people around if they get in their way, but they`re more intent on economic growth and internal stability."