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Australia’s Strained Relationship with Indonesia about to get Uglier

November 25, 2013

Indonesia's President Yudhoyono meets with Australia's opposition leader Abbott in Canberra 

The following article is by Bunn Nagara, a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia….


Suddenly, a queue seems to be forming in various secret locations in Russia for foreign nationals to meet American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

At first these visits were of a personal nature, comprising family and admirers who wished him well. One such visit was by some former US intelligence officials on behalf of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence to award Snowden a medal.

Like many of Snowden’s fans around the world, including in the US itself, Snowden’s guests are among radicals, liberals and conservatives who value his personal risks in exposing illegal and unethical activity by US spies.

Then Brazilian government officials wanted to meet Snowden to learn about NSA spying activities on Brazil. Other countries the US spied on directly or indirectly were mostly friendly or ally nations including Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Thailand and Venezuela.

Next, German officials wanted to meet Snowden to find out more about these US breaches of privacy, protocol, security and law. Germany wants Snowden to testify in Berlin.

Now Indonesian officials want to meet Snowden. He has so far agreed to these requests and is likely to do so again.

Russia had granted Snowden temporary asylum and has since helped to maintain the secrecy of his whereabouts for his own safety. He is still a fugitive from the US government which is hounding him on espionage charges.

This week Russia agreed to the request by Indonesian officials to meet Snowden. Russian parliamentary leader Nikolai Levichev, in Jakarta during the week, confirmed that position on Thursday.

A wide swathe of Indonesian public opinion is incensed by Australia for allowing its embassy in Jakarta to be used in spying. The anti-Australia sentiment sweeping Indonesia is as evident at street level and public rallies as it is in diplomatic circles and Jakarta’s corridors of power.

Indonesian anger at Australia, now raging strongly and on multiple fronts, resulted directly from Snowden’s leaks.

It was then learned that the Australian Signals Directorate had tapped the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, as well as those of eight Indonesian government ministers and officials.

Australia may dismiss Indonesian fury as the typical rants of a Third World country. Yet despite such appearances, the Indonesian situation is not untypical of aggrieved countries in general.

Germany, another open, democratic country and a friend of the US – as well as being a developed Western country – also found that the personal cellphone of leader Angela Merkel had been tapped, and protested similarly. Mexico learned that the same befell the personal email of former President Felipe Calderón, a close US ally.

Relations between Jakarta and Canberra are now said to be the worst in 14 years. It therefore serves as a case study of sorts.

Like the other countries targeted by this global spying network, Indonesia is the victim rather than the aggressor. Furthermore it had done nothing against Australia (or the US), with no spying activities of its own to any comparable degree, to deserve such shoddy treatment.

Indonesia is also a sovereign and democratic nation that had tried to maintain good relations with Australia, in hopes that its efforts would be reciprocated. It has since discovered that its faith had been misplaced.

Australia and its apologists are not without their own arguments and responses, however. But so far these have not done Canberra any due justice.

A common Australian response has been that Indonesian protesters are ignorant, delusional and highly strung people with no case to make in their protests. Official and non-official Australian responses have been insulting in varying degrees.

Some have commented on the Indonesians’ poor English as expressed in their protest placards. Others have called the Indonesian demonstrations rent-a-crowd affairs, cynically manipulated by unseen hands with ulterior motives.

One argument says that since spying is practised by virtually all countries, all spying activities should be acceptable. That amounts to saying that it is all right to rob a neighbour because crime exists in the neighbourhood.

At the official level, Prime Minister Tony Abbott offered no apology or remorse. One of his party strategists even said that an Indonesian official, widely believed to be Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, resembled a “1970s Filipino porn star”.

Mark Textor then apologised, but denied he was referring to Marty. Since the Indonesian official he described was unnamed, and few if any shared his experience and insights of the Philippine porn industry, it became a slippery insult to protest against.

Canberra would be shortchanging itself if it thought this controversy would soon blow over. A minor fuss would dissipate within days, but over the week this has instead grown in scope and intensity.

Jakarta first suspended bilateral cooperation in military exercises, intelligence exchanges and efforts against human trafficking. While Indonesian demands for an apology and an undertaking that Australia stop its spying activities remain unanswered, Jakarta announced that it would stop cooperation in restricting migrant flows to Australia.

Susilo continues to review reports from government agencies about areas where cooperation may be withdrawn. Marty calls this “turning off the tap by degrees.”

Although full bilateral cooperation will eventually resume, it will not come before a full and satisfactory apology from Australia. Indonesians saw how President Obama did not hesitate to apologise to Merkel, so they ask why Abbott cannot do the same with Susilo.

A swift and early apology works better than a late and reluctant one. But any apology is still better than none.

Australian policymakers would do well to observe the trend against obstinate recalcitrance that tries to defend spying on friends.

After Obama’s apology, US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly admitted that US spying had gone too far. Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson Dianne Feinstein followed this with critical comments on NSA activities after having defended them.

Germany had earlier rejected an asylum request from Snowden but popular sentiment now seems to shift his way after Bonn’s request for his cooperation. There are growing calls in France for granting him asylum.

Among ordinary Australians, there are both increasing criticisms of spying operations and support for whistleblowers like Snowden. Former senior officials have also voiced sympathy for Indonesia’s position.

Abbott has promised a “swift, full and courteous” reply to Susilo’s demand for an apology and an explanation. Only the terms and extent of that response need to be worked out.

At stake in bilateral relations are stemming the tide of migrants to Australia, a top policy concern for Canberra; negotiations on an economic partnership agreement; and two-way trade that reached US$10.2bil (RM32.8bil) last year.

Meanwhile, despite growing pressure, Abbott and his Liberal Party have shown reluctance in issuing any apology to Indonesia. This is even when the spying controversy focuses on a period in 2009 when the Labor Party was in office.

Abbott’s indirect defence of a Labor government’s activities amounts to an endorsement. It reveals as hollow former Labor officials’ criticisms of Abbott now.

It also exposes the common ground between Australia’s major parties on such issues as spying on a friendly neighbour.

It signals that future governments of whichever party are unlikely to differ much in their activities on other countries.



24 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2013 4:31 pm

    Above the surface, the nervous ducks are doing a bad job of appearing calm, whilst below the surface one can only guess the level of panic or indecision.

    Only those in strategic government circles and the Australian Signals Directorate would be aware of any information Snowden may hold which would have the potential to cause similar embarrassing situations with other neighbours of ours in SE Asia.

    And that would have so much of the Governments attention right now that they wont be able to fully focus on other matters at home which they would like to.

    A majority of Australians (my assumption) are understandably concerned about the Governments intent in many areas at home.

    I feel this is one of them . . . . .



  2. TB Queensland permalink
    November 25, 2013 5:07 pm

    Three very telling paragraphs …

    Among ordinary Australians, there are both increasing criticisms of spying operations and support for whistleblowers like Snowden. Former senior officials have also voiced sympathy for Indonesia’s position.

    Abbott’s indirect defence of a Labor government’s activities amounts to an endorsement. It reveals as hollow former Labor officials’ criticisms of Abbott now.

    It also exposes the common ground between Australia’s major parties on such issues as spying on a friendly neighbour.

    Just who is running the country …?

  3. November 25, 2013 5:18 pm

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Among ordinary Australians, there are both increasing criticisms of spying operations and support for whistleblowers like Snowden.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

    (and Assange too probably)

    Yeah TB, it`s hard to defend dishonest despots that try and beat-up on fact-bearers. Hypocrisy is one of the hardest positions to try and maintain.

  4. TB Queensland permalink
    November 25, 2013 5:23 pm

    Mick, just rode your carousel … some very clever stuff …

    I can’t help thinking you get some of your inspiration from TGT … 😉

  5. TB Queensland permalink
    November 25, 2013 5:24 pm

    Hypocrisy is one of the hardest positions to try and maintain.

    Its been tried here quite a few times … and I expect it will be again … 😛

  6. November 25, 2013 6:01 pm

    TB Qld, thanks for the comment.

    And the inspiration, maybe TGT and I are tuned to the same universe.

    Most of my inspiration comes from the evenings TV news where the political antics of the day are reported on. With a scrambled brain like mine, I see many a cartoon in the news, but rarely get to produce them

    For many Australian cartoonists, the evenings news is much like a smorgasbord.

    I try to be central and criticise both sides equally. But I must admit, it’s damn hard at times.



  7. November 25, 2013 6:17 pm

    I too enjoy your cartoons Mick… 🙂

  8. egg permalink
    November 25, 2013 7:10 pm

    The WSJ gives the hiccup an airing.

  9. egg permalink
    November 26, 2013 9:02 am

    ‘MARK Scott should resign. When the managing director of the ABC chose to publish information criminally obtained by Edward Snowden about Australia’s signals intelligence operations in Indonesia, he also chose to undermine Australia’s relationship with our most important neighbour.

    ‘He chose to fuel tensions and nationalist sentiments in a fledgling democracy. He also chose to undermine an immigration policy aimed at preventing deaths at sea.’

    Janet Albrechtsen

    Yes … yes, but what about the media’s right to exploit a scoop, no matter what the ramifications.

  10. Splatterbottom permalink
    November 26, 2013 10:48 am

    Albrechtsen is an idiot. If the ABC didn’t publish, the Guardian and/or someone else would have.

  11. TB Queensland permalink
    November 26, 2013 11:16 am

    And Albrechtsen wouldn’t have published … fkn hypocrite …


  12. paul permalink
    November 26, 2013 11:20 am

    This on the ABC as to why they broke the story

  13. Walrus permalink
    November 26, 2013 11:31 am

    Indonesia has a helluva lot to lose with all this non cooperation. If they cant keep adequate tabs on their religious nutters then its only a matter of time before a few bombs go off. And there goes their foreign investment and tourism sectors.

    Plus when you consider it costs $100 per head to ship cattle over there from here compared to $800 from Brazil and Argentina they better be ready for some food riots as well.

  14. Walrus permalink
    November 26, 2013 5:16 pm

    Here is final confirmation that Julian Burnside is a fucking idiot if further evidence was required.

    On Q@A last night he implied that the fallout from the Spy Scandal is actually a Liberal Party conspiracy.

    What a TWAT he is

    Here he talks about the Australian Indonesian relationship

    “…………..You just have to make it work and we are not doing a very good job at that at the moment but there is a really interesting question.

    Why have we not handled this fairly obvious problem a bit more intelligently?

    One cynical explanation might be this:

    It looks as though, at least in the short-term, Indonesia is not going to be cooperating in Australia’s desire to stop boat people getting to our shores. A bit of a set-to with Indonesia is a perfect excuse for the fact the idea of stopping the boats hasn’t worked and won’t work. So I’m just wondering whether that’s politically a possible explanation for the silence but I don’t know if Josh can shed any light on that.”

    What a fuckwit he truly is

  15. IPA permalink
    November 26, 2013 9:34 pm

    SBY sends Tones a selfie (only someone else took it) …

  16. egg permalink
    November 27, 2013 1:20 am

    PM must agree to spy ‘code of ethics’

    ‘Indonesia warns cooperation with Australia will remain on hold until Tony Abbott meets this criteria.’


  17. egg permalink
    November 27, 2013 2:09 pm

    ‘Tony Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday morning he appreciated the warmth of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s statement in Jakarta on Tuesday night and his proposal that the way forward be worked through by “trusted envoys”.

    Murphy / Guardian

  18. egg permalink
    November 27, 2013 2:25 pm

    ‘While Labor keeps claiming it had a more generous humanitarian program, accepting 20,000 people per year, in fact 7000 of those permanent places were given to illegal boat arrivals, depriving refugees waiting offshore the opportunity to come here legitimately.

    ‘So the real number of ­people given refugee status was 13,000 under Labor, slightly less than the Coalition’s 13,750, says Morrison.’

    Devine / Daily Terror

  19. Walrus permalink
    November 27, 2013 6:21 pm

    ‘Indonesia warns cooperation with Australia will remain on hold until Tony Abbott meets this criteria.’

    So what are the stupid fuckin’ Indos going to do if it is leaked that the USA is spying on them as well.

    Will they cut all ties with them until they need help for their next natural disaster.

    What a bunch of fucking juvenuiles

  20. TB Queensland permalink
    November 27, 2013 7:00 pm

    What a bunch of fucking juvenuiles

    So how come you sound more juvenuile (sic) than the Indonesians (“fuckin’ Indos” was a clue – I knew you couldn’t spell it 😉 )

  21. TB Queensland permalink
    November 27, 2013 7:05 pm

    … given to illegal boat arrivals, depriving refugees waiting offshore the opportunity to come here legitimately.

    Refugees/asylum seekers arriving by boat are not “illegal” … 🙄 There are “overstayers” on visas – neither refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants … and if someone is declared illegal then they’re not immigrants … only legal immigrants (via assessment centres), asylum seekers and refugees are allowed into our country – legally …

  22. paul permalink
    November 27, 2013 7:17 pm

    Now our Foreign Minister is getting us into trouble with China. When will these people learn to shut up and think before they say something.

    Beijing furious over Julie Bishop’s ‘irresponsible’ remarks

    Beijing has delivered an angry rebuke over what it says are “irresponsible remarks” made by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop regarding Chinese territorial claims in the East China Sea.

    In what is shaping up to be the latest diplomatic headache for the Abbott government in Asia, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a sternly worded statement on its website on Wednesday saying it had “lodged serious representations” requesting Ms Bishop to correct her statements or risk damaging bilateral relations.—remarks-20131127-2ya2q.html

  23. Walrus permalink
    November 27, 2013 10:22 pm

    Sure sure Paul I’m sure Beijing is furious.

    When are you of the Socialist Left going to acknowledge that Beijing is also having problems with the USA plus Japan plus Taiwan plus South Korea at the same time rather than lead with a pathetic attack as if our government was only involved.

    Oh I forgot there’s a democrat in the White House

  24. egg permalink
    November 28, 2013 8:15 am

    Life is cheap, or perhaps its just allah’s will.

    ‘ASYLUM-SEEKERS heading to Christmas Island are at greater risk of drowning if their boats sink, as Jakarta’s ban on co-operation with Australia in the Indonesian search and rescue region has not been lifted.

    ‘Indonesia has withdrawn search and rescue co-operation as a consequence of the spying controversy and a vast area of Indonesia’s southern search and rescue zone is now virtually without naval monitoring or assistance for asylum-seeker boats in trouble.’

    – See more at:

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