Look at Trump's actions, not tweets: Former Australia PM John Howard

Key Points
  • Look beyond the surface and to the substance of what Trump has done, said Howard
  • Trump's order of a strike on Syria after the country's government used poison gas in a attack was "first class"
  • The U.S. walking away from the TPP, however, was disappointing, he said
Trump is different: John Howard
Trump is different: John Howard
How Australia avoided the worst of the Asian financial crisis
How Australia avoided the worst of the Asian financial crisis

Look beyond tweets and "media snow" to see what U.S. President Donald Trump has actually done, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Wednesday.

"I think what people should look at is the substance of the outcome of all the things he does," Howard told CNBC's "Squawk Box".

Trump's response to the Syrian government's use of gas as a weapon was "first class and had a desired effect and sent a message to the Syrians," said Howard.

In early April, the U.S. military attacked a Syria-government airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles on Thursday evening. Trump said later he was targeting the Syrian airfield from which the government allegedly launched a chemical attack this week on a rebel-held area.

Howard also gave a thumbs up to Trump's relationship with the Chinese.

"The way in which he has on a personal basis dealt with the Chinese president is very good because that relationship between the United States and China will for many years into the future, indefinitely indeed, be the most important bilateral relationship in the world," added Howard.

Trump also has talked much about imposing tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S.. after his campaign talk of a punitive 45 percent tariff on goods imported from the world' second largest economy.

"I think that would be very bad for both of those countries and also the rest of us," said Howard, who was Australian prime minister from 1996 to 2007.

When asked about a reported acrimonious phone call between Trump and current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year, Howard said that Turnbull handled the situation "brilliantly" and stood up to Australia.

Observers, however, should look beyond the surface, Howard said.

"I wouldn't take too much notice of the color and movement of some of these exchanges with the American president. Look, he's different from many of his predecessors; I think that's obvious," said Howard.

Howard however expressed disappointment with the U.S. walking away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"We believe very strongly in more open and more liberal trade and I think all the nations of the capitalist world have got to to redouble their commitment to freer trade because freer trade has helped liberate hundreds of millions people out of poverty in the last 20 or 30 years and we've got to keep going down that path," said Howard.

"Anything that is done on that front by the American administration is infinitely more important than all the tweets in the world," he added.