Indonesia Takes Aim at Australia Over Spying on Talks

19-Feb-2014 Intellasia | Nytimes | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Indonesia’s foreign minister said Monday that it was a “bit mind-boggling” that the Australian intelligence agency had spied on his nation’s trade deliberations with American officials.

“We should be looking out for each other, not turning against one another,” the foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said. “We should be listening to one another,” and not listening in.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that an American law firm had been monitored by the Australian Signals directorate while representing the Indonesian government on various trade issues. A top-secret document, obtained by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, reported that the Australian agency had notified the N.S.A. that it was conducting surveillance of the talks.

In a news conference here with Secretary of State John Kerry, Natalegawa refrained from directly criticising the United States, saying he had been assured that the Obama administration was undertaking a review of its spying practices that he hoped would lead to changes in its approach to spying on Indonesia.

“What I am now anticipating and what I am now understanding is that the kind of refinement in approach, refinement in outlook and practice will be relevant to a country like Indonesia as a partner of the United States,” Natalegawa said.

He was more direct in his comments about the behavior of Australia, Indonesia’s neighbour. The article in The Times said that the document did not identify which talks had been monitored, but that two trade disputes at the time involved shrimp and clove cigarettes.

“To suggest as if the future of shrimps exported by Indonesia to the United States had an impact on Australia’s security is a little bit too much,” Natalegawa said, “and begs some kind of serious question about what this is all about.”

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC Radio in Australia on Monday morning, prime minister Tony Abbott said that the Australian government would not comment directly on intelligence matters, but he did say that “Australia does need to have a strong intelligence operation.”

“Australian intelligence has been instrumental in the prevention of numerous terrorist attacks, including terrorist attacks in Indonesia,” he added. “We have very good intelligence and security cooperation with Indonesia, and that is going to continue.”

Abbott denied that Australia collects information that would benefit businesses commercially, either in Australia or in the United States.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has been tested in recent months over Australia’s policy on asylum seekers. The conservative Abbott government, elected in September, came to office on a promise to turn back to Indonesia boats carrying asylum seekers.

The government, while refusing to comment on its operations at sea, has been accused of loading asylum seekers into lifeboats and towing them back toward Indonesian territorial waters. The Australian Navy has also been accused of entering Indonesian territorial waters.

Abbott said on Monday that despite strong protests from Indonesia over the incursions, he believed that “Australia has a strong relationship with Indonesia; it is a very, very important relationship.” He said that Natalegawa and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia were good friends of Australia, adding, “I am confident that our relationship is going to go from strength to strength.”

Kerry sought to play down the spying issue, saying that he understood Indonesia’s concerns and that President Obama had pledged to overhaul American spying practices.


Category: Regional

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