The Federal Government is scrambling to avert a new regional controversy ahead of this weekend's APEC meeting after United States President George Bush described Australia as 'sheriff' of the Asia-Pacific.
His comment, meant as a compliment to Australia's international standing, risked reigniting regional sensitivities over the closeness of the relationship between the two countries.
Government figures and the US ambassador moved swiftly yesterday to hose down suggestions that Australia's near neighbours would be offended.
However, the Malaysian Government has already said the comment reinforced the view that Australia was acting as a United States 'puppet' in East Asia.
The controversy sprang from a response Mr Bush gave in an interview with a group of Asia-Pacific journalists this week when asked whether he saw Australia as his 'deputy sheriff' in the region.
The perceived endorsement of that term by the Prime Minister, John Howard, during a magazine interview four years ago prompted an angry response from some regional countries, led by the Malaysian leader, Mahathir Mohamad.
I have no time for Mahathir. All he is really doing is playing the same kind of security politics that John Howard plays, just from the other side of the fence. The brief and inglorious history of the Howard doctrine does not bear repeating. Our diplomatic standing in the region might improve if the president went back to discussing the Man of Steel's charisma