US President George W Bush has hailed Australia as its "sheriff" in South East Asia.
Mr Howard sees the US as a key ally
The phrase is likely to raise hackles in the region, where Malaysia's leader Mahathir Mohamad recently accused Australia of acting like a "deputy general" and
a Western "transplant".
Mr Bush was asked by The Australian newspaper whether he agreed with Australian Prime Minister John Howard's comment in 1999 that his country was the US' "deputy sheriff".
Mr Bush promptly gave Australia a promotion.
"No. We don't see it as a deputy sheriff. We see it as a sheriff," he told the paper.
Washington has welcomed Canberra's unstinting support in the US war against terror. Australia sent 2,000 troops to fight alongside the US in Iraq.
Mr Bush said the two countries were "equal partners, friends and allies. There's nothing deputy about this relationship".
He was speaking ahead of his attendance at an Asian economic forum on Monday and Tuesday, followed by visits to Australia and several other East Asian countries.
"The great thing about Australians is they're not
afraid," Mr Bush said during the interview, conducted in the White House earlier this week.
"When I go to Australia I'll be speaking to a country which does understand the
consequences of sacrificing for something greater than themselves."
He noted that the US and Australia had both suffered recent terror attacks.
"I remind our people in our country that, yes, September 11 was devastating here, but there have been other victims, including the victims in Bali," he said.
The Bali bombings last October killed 88 Australians.
Malaysian's Deputy Defence Minister Shafie Apdal hit out at the comments on Thursday.
"I suppose America wants a puppet of its own in this region whom they can trust who will do whatever they wish," he told The Associated Press.
"We are quite capable of handling our own security," he added.
President Bush is due to address Australia's parliament when he visits on Thursday.
Peace activists are planning protests and some lawmakers have threatened to wear white armbands and refuse to give Mr Bush a standing ovation.
President Bush said he was looking forward to the trip.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying that one reason he wanted to visit was that "they tell me it's kind of like Texas".