As political tensions escalate in and around the dynamic Asia-Pacific region, John Howard, Australia's prime minister from 1996 to 2007, recently sat down with the Nikkei Asian Review to share his views on current events. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: As North Korea continues its missile development, do you think there should be more cooperation to deal with the increasing threat?
A: I certainly think the more cooperation there can be, the better. But the two countries that have to intensify their cooperation are China and the U.S. They're the two that really matter. Australia and Japan are on the same page [regarding] North Korea.
[When I was prime minister,] the six-party talks kept going, but they didn't work. I don't think you will get a solution with North Korea without the coming-together in determination to resolve the issue between the United States and China, because China can exert more influence directly on North Korea than any other country. There has to be a coming-together between the U.S. and China.
Q: But the goals of the U.S. and China's are not the same.
A: I agree with you, not at the moment, but things can change.
Q: How has President Donald Trump's personal style affected international issues?
A: I think what people must do in relation to the Trump administration is look at the substance. He's different, and I don't think he's going to change his style of operation. [But] if you look at what he's done on the international stage, it's been, in my view, quite consistent with a fairly conservative Republican administration. He authorized the missile strike on Syria, and that was correct and widely applauded. He obviously gives great importance to the relationship with Japan. He's reaffirmed his support for NATO. The vice president has reassured the Baltic countries next door to the Russian Federation.
China does have the levers that other countries don't have. So far, they haven't been willing to [use them]. But I think the U.S. in particular, and other countries in general, need to keep urging that on the Chinese, because it's not in China's interests to have a difficult North Korea. But I don't underestimate the challenge that even a country like China has.
Q: Do you think ASEAN can act in solidarity on regional issues?
A: I have a view that we can over-emphasize regional arrangements and place too many expectations on [them]. I agree it is hard.
When I was PM, I was very careful to build bilateral relationships. To me, a successful foreign policy in Asia was a good relationship with Japan, a good relationship with China, a good relationship with Indonesia, and an improved relationship with India.
Q: You were prime minister during the 2002 Bali bombings, which affected many Australians. How can countries guard against increasing terrorism?
A: The most important weapon we have in fighting terrorism is timely intelligence. It's more important than anything. The intelligence-sharing arrangements Australia has with other countries are absolutely crucial.
The most talked-about one is the Five Eyes, which [involves] Australia, Britain, the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. We have very close intelligence links with nations in Asia. We obviously have links in intelligence with Japan. We have very important links with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
[Intelligence] is what we have to cooperate on. Going to meetings and talking about it is fine, but it's nowhere near as important as actually knowing what the bad people are up to. We have to be realistic about it.
The threat of extreme Islamism is real, and I think countries in the region have done a good job in fighting it. There's little doubt that as [the Islamic State group] ... retreats on the battlefield, as a way of maintaining their [intimidating] presence, they will encourage people and inspire terrorist attacks. And no country is immune from this, including Australia. We have to accept that reality.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Kaori Takahashi in Sydney