Blessed with the thickest of political hides, John Howard has never been one to react to every criticism made of him.
Howard, in retirement, has been the most retiring of former prime ministers when it comes to contemporary debates.
He was, however, stirred towards mild opprobrium late last week by his predecessor, Paul Keating. It was not Keating's startling non-revelation, reported elsewhere, that the voters had erred egregiously in 1996 by dumping him for Howard.
It was Keating's Keith Murdoch Oration in Melbourne in which he lambasted the regional foreign policy approach of the Gillard and Howard governments.
Essentially, Keating argued that Australia was diminishing its influence and opportunities in the region by aligning itself with the US's policy approach of containment of China.
Keating singled out the symbolism of last year's visit to Australia by the US President, Barack Obama, who used an address to a joint sitting of the Parliament to outline plans to reposition the US in Australia.
''During the current prime ministership, that of Julia Gillard, US President Barack Obama made an oral and policy assault on China and its polity from the lower chamber of our Parliament House,'' Keating scolded.
Arguing for a more independent and self-centred approach, Keating said Australia needed to integrate more into the region rather than ''hanging on in barely requited faith to the attenuated linkages of the declining West''.
His view is neither new nor isolated. Bob Carr shared it before he eschewed retirement to be Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Foreign policy academic Hugh White wrote in support of Keating that it was absurd for Canberra to believe ''Asia can be transformed economically but remain essentially unchanged strategically, with America in charge as it has always been before''.
With all this ringing in her ears, Gillard flies to Cambodia on Monday for the East Asia Summit, which is held each year and is now more important than the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum because it has a security focus, rather that just economics.
It also includes India and, due to the efforts of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, the US.
Obviously, through her government's actions, Gillard disagrees with the Keating thesis.
A month ago, when Australia won a seat on the United Nations Security Council, she slammed as ''infantile'' analysis that Australia would have to choose between the permanent members, the US and China.
Australia had a strong and decades-old defence alliance, she said. ''We didn't sneak up on anybody with this defence alliance.'' At the same time, ''we are engaged with China at every level''.
Gillard was echoing what Howard had said for years. That in the region, Australia could walk and chew gum at the same time.
Howard lists as a top-three achievement of his government the forging of close ties with Beijing while maintaining strong bonds with Washington.
So it was no surprise that he hit back on the weekend, describing Keating's view as juvenile and fatuous.
Six weeks ago, Howard delivered a polar opposite thesis to Keating when giving the inaugural Sir John Downer Oration at the University of Adelaide.
The argument that Australia would have to choose between the US and China ''was muddled and lacking in a proper understanding of the forces at work'', he said.
He said Obama's speech to Parliament was ''a good speech'' that ''sounded no sour notes'' and was ''realistic but not belligerent towards China''.
Howard took a shot at the many claiming to be ''China experts''. He was not of this category but, as the prime minister during whose tenure China rose, he spoke from experience. He said the ANZUS Treaty was never a barrier to deepening relations with China.
The Chinese ''respected the fidelity Australia had shown towards its links to the US, although they would never say so'' and they ''knew and accepted'' that Australia would always be closer to the US because of shared values, institutions and history.
Howard was no newcomer to such views. As far back as 2006, in a speech he delivered in Chicago, Howard made some salient points as he warned those advocating a diminution of US influence to ''be careful what you wish for''.
''None of our global challenges, from defeating terror to widening economic opportunity, to building a world order based on mutual respect, can be secured without American power and American purpose,'' he said.
None of the regional flashpoints - the Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula, Kashmir, south-east Asian terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - could be resolved without US leadership and engagement.
Ultimately, Howard noted that the rapid emergence of a global middle class - notably in China and India - was ''history's vindication'' of US leadership.
''A global middle class would not have been possible without American power and purpose in the last 60 years,'' he said.
Indeed, history has shown people would rather drink Coca-Cola than drive Trabants.