Washington (AFP) - Australia's former prime minister Julia Gillard said Thursday that the United States sent a "really bad message" to a fast-changing Asia when President Barack Obama canceled a visit.
Obama, who has pledged a "pivot" policy of putting a greater US focus on Asia, called off a four-nation trip this month that would have included two regional summits after lawmakers of the rival Republican Party forced a shutdown of the federal government.
Gillard, who was prime minister for three years until June, said she had been attending meetings of the APEC forum in Bali when news of Obama's cancelation came and "you could hear the painful thud."
"There are many nations within our region in this time of strategic change that are working out where their long-term alliances should be," Gillard said at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.
"When you have the US say we're pivoting towards you, and then the American president is unable to come to the two pivotal meetings this year because your government shut down, that's a really bad message," she said.
Australia, a close ally, has championed a larger US role in Asia at a time that China's clout is growing. US officials credit Kevin Rudd, Australia's former prime minister and Gillard's nemesis within the now opposition Labor Party, with helping craft the pivot strategy.
US allies largely refrained from publicly criticizing Obama's absence, which came as President Xi Jinping toured Southeast Asia and stressed Beijing's growing trade and investment.
Obama insisted that the cancelation of his trip would not do "lasting damage" to the United States and he sent Secretary of State John Kerry instead.
Obama had also been due to attend the East Asia Summit in Brunei, tour US ally the Philippines and pay the first visit by a US president to Malaysia in nearly half a century.
Gillard, addressing the left-leaning think tank, supported Obama's pivot strategy and joked that she was not worried if the United States listened to her telephone.
"If my telephone was intercepted when I was prime minister, all that anybody would have heard would have been praise for President Obama," Gillard said.German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced outrage at reports that US intelligence snooped on her cell phone, the latest explosive leak from former US contractor Edward Snowden.