Former Australian prime minister Keating says Trump ‘surprisingly’ good at foreign policy

Donald Trump is “surprisingly” good at foreign policy, according to former Australian prime minister Paul Keating, who says the United States was directionless under the previous three administrations.

As the US president accepted an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for talks, Keating said he had not expected Trump to have “such a pragmatic” foreign policy and urged the president to continue down the path he was on.

“America has gone on for 24 years without a strategy,” Keating told a business conference in Sydney on Friday, during which he criticised Barack Obama’s timidity and “lack of policy ambition” in office.

“Trump has, surprisingly – and I hope he maintains this – put his hand up for the right policy.”

Trump won praise for accepting the North Korean offer of talks but it also came on a day when the president set the US on a potential collision course with major trading partners by introducing tariffs on steel and aluminium. Trump has also been criticised for his policy towards the Middle East where he has angered Arab nations by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Keating credited Obama for avoiding major conflicts and underwriting some of the US’s economic recovery, but argued he failed on the world stage.

“In terms of the big game, we lost two more terms,” he said.

Keating described Bill Clinton as a “domestic politician” who missed the opportunity to remake the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We lost two Clinton terms as these huge changes in the post-colonial world were taking place.”

Keating also criticised George W Bush for blowing two presidential terms attempting to “propagate American values in the Middle East” while Chinese influence was growing in Asia.v

The former prime minister described Bush’s deputy secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, as “dreadful” and warned the US against attempting to remain a homogeneous power in Asia.

“The Chinese will never accept it – we’ll have military problems, confrontations,” he said. “It will all come unstuck.”

Keating argued the US should be a “balancing power” in Asia and learn to relinquish some control of the region.

Trump’s strategy of using partnership diplomacy with China – as he has tried to do in order to to put pressure on North Korea – was a better approach than the one his rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, would have adopted.

Keating said Russia had the power to destroy the US, and urged Trump to maintain a workable relationship with the Kremlin. “Russia alone has the capacity to obliterate the United States. If you’re a country that lives under the threat of obliteration, you generally should have a policy.”