Indonesia says ties with Australia will remain on ice for at least six months

18-Feb-2014 Intellasia | Theguardian | 7:47 AM Print This Post

Indonesia expects ties with Australia to remain on ice for at least six months given the time it will take to negotiate a code of conduct to govern intelligence gathering in the wake of reports Canberra spied on top Indonesians.

A document from a 13 January meeting organised by Indonesia’s Co-ordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs noted that Jakarta did not expect full diplomatic links to be restored until October.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced in November he was freezing military and intelligence cooperation with Canberra, including over the thorny issue of asylum seekers who use Indonesia as a departure point to try to reach Australia by boat.

Yudhoyono demanded a code of conduct be drawn up to cover intelligence matters. Indonesia also recalled its ambassador to Canberra.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced in November he was freezing military and intelligence cooperation with Canberra. Photograph: Toru Hanai/AFP/Getty Images

The ministry document, a summary of the January meeting and seen by Reuters, is the first clear indication of how long it will take to revive ties. That could worry the business community, even though there has been little sign of fallout on trade and investment so far. Two-way trade was worth $13bn last year.

“It has been two months since our ambassador was withdrawn and still there are no signs [of ties improving],” said ministry spokesman Agus Barnas.

The timeframe was an “estimate” based on the current political climate, Barnas said, although October is also when a new Indonesian president will take office following elections Yudhoyono cannot contest because he will have served a maximum two terms.

The January meeting was attended by representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the military, the national intelligence service, immigration department, the police and other agencies, according to the document.

Yudhoyono has shown rare public anger over reports, quoting documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, that Australian intelligence agencies monitored his phone, and those of his wife and inner circle. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has expressed regret for any embarrassment the reports caused Yudhoyono. His government has declined to comment directly on the reports.

In response to questions from Reuters, Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, reiterated that Canberra had agreed to work on the code of conduct.

“Cooperation is continuing in most areas as we continue to work with the Indonesian government to put the bilateral relationship on an even stronger and more substantial footing for the future,” Bishop said in a statement.

The rift is the most serious between the two countries since 1999, when Australia sent troops into East Timor to restore peace and subdue Jakarta-backed militias after Indonesia’s military pulled out of the former colony.

Business leaders fear a prolonged chill could hit economic ties, especially if government meetings that might open the way for business agreements are derailed, said Kris Sulisto, president of the Indonesia Australia Business Council.

“The important thing I hope is that there will not be any restrictions on the business community,” he said.



Category: Regional

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