Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president urged the Australian government to explain the wiretapping incident in 2009 where it spied on the Indonesian president himself and several of his top officials. Adding tension to the situation is the stance of Australian prime minister Tony Abbot insisting that “all governments gather information.”
With this statement of his Australian counter-part, Mr. Yudhoyono felt that the surveillance incident is being given little importance in Canberra and no real efforts are undertaken to resolve the issue.
Indonesia Recalls Her Ambassador
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia immediately recalled her ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, in what many believe to be a direct retaliation to Australia’s stance. Following the recall, Jakarta insisted that Australia should fully explain to the public their electronic surveillance program within two days. While waiting for the explanation, Jakarta likewise placed in review the asylum seeker cooperation the two concerned governments earlier agreed upon.
Several documents revealed that Australia attempted to intercept in one instance the phone call of Mr. Yudhoyono and monitored his phone activities for at least 15 days in 2009. Aside from the Indonesian president several other key government officials including the first lady Ani Yudhoyono and vice-president Boediono were also placed under surveillance.
Although Abbot was not yet the prime minister at the time of the incident back in 2009, Jakarta believes that an apology must nonetheless be issued immediately by Australia.
Abbot has neither denied nor confirmed that the current tension between the two countries stemmed from whistle blower Edward Snowden’s revelations that Australia was indeed spying on Indonesia he nonetheless defended his country saying that Australia gathers information not to harm but to help friends and allies.
Snowden is the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who revealed to the press more than 200,000 classified documents which primarily revolved around the US and her allies’ surveillance system implemented around the world.
Indonesia and Australia are neighbors and consider themselves allies and friends. Sometimes friendship can turn sour. This souring occurred in 1999, when Australia led a United Nations military force into the former Indonesian province of East Timor. East Timor’s attempt at independence drew support from Portugal, United States and Australia. Today, East Timor is an independent sovereign state and a member of the United Nations.
Another flashpoint with regard to this relationship is on the issue of asylum seekers wanting to go to Australia and using Indonesia as a staging area. These asylum seekers came mainly from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and are first processed in Indonesia before they are ready to be sent to Australia. Just recently, Indonesia refused a request to return asylum seekers to the country of origin and claimed that the boat they were riding in was pushed back into Indonesian waters by the Australians .
With this recent surveillance friction, Indonesia decided to place in review the asylum seeker cooperation the two countries agreed upon earlier.
Steps are being taken by both sides to restore their relationship to good standing. Abbott’s first international trip since being elected prime minister of Australia last September was to Jakarta. Abbot has made improving the relationship with Jakarta one of his government’s top priorities.
Until this present tension is diffused the relationship between the two countries will just continue to deteriorate. Yudhoyono just wanted some explanations for Australia’s wiretapping activities just for now.
By Roberto I. Belda