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Indonesia, China Press US on Spying Allegations

  • Kate Lamb

Demonstrators hold signs and a picture supporting Edward Snowden outside the Consulate General of the United States in Hong Kong, June 13, 2013.

Demonstrators hold signs and a picture supporting Edward Snowden outside the Consulate General of the United States in Hong Kong, June 13, 2013.

As the U.S. government faces continued pressure to explain its international spying operations, new allegations have emerged about the extent of U.S. surveillance in Asia.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry has summoned America’s top diplomat in Jakarta to clarify allegations the U.S embassy has been spying on its president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Relying on recent documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, media reports indicate the U.S embassy in Jakarta houses wiretapping equipment that has been used to monitor the president and other Indonesian leaders.

The foreign minister said the activities would not only qualify as security breaches, but also as a serious ‘violation of diplomatic norms and ethics,’ and has demanded the U.S explain.

Political analyst Aleksius Jemadu from Jakarta’s Pelita Harpan University said the claims could undermine the relationship between the two countries.

“I think the U.S. government has to have to the courage to explain, in order to restore the trust that is really needed in order to strengthen and to develop a good relationship, taking into account that Indonesia plays a key role in the stability in Southeast Asia,” Aleksius said.

Deputy Chief of Mission Kristen Bauer, the U.S. embassy official who was summoned by the foreign ministry, declined to comment.

Indonesia is a key regional ally for the United States, particularly as a diplomatic counter to China’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Other U.S. allies have expressed outrage over reports about the extent of U.S. surveillance of foreign leaders.

The State Department has declined to respond to specific claims, saying only that reviews of intelligence gathering will be complete by the end of the year.

But the revelations of the extent of the National Security Agency’s overseas activities have highlighted how some U.S. allies participate in spying.

Media reports based on the NSA documents reveal that Australia has allowed covert NSA programs to operate in its embassies in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and East Timor. The documents describe the facilities as carefully concealed within embassy compounds. Most diplomatic staff reportedly are unaware they exist.

Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, a law professor from the University of Indonesia, said those allegations could be even more damaging.

“I think it is going to be very difficult for the Indonesian government to go against the U.S. very harshly. However this is different with Australia because Indonesia sees Australia as less powerful and I think the Indonesian government can make a big fuss about this issue,” the professor said.

Juwana said Indonesia could refuse to cooperate on some critical issues with Australia, such as efforts to stop people smugglers.

The uproar over U.S. spying follows previous criticism from China, Russia and India that the United States has too much control over infrastructure in the cyber sphere.

In Beijing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying demanded the United States explain its use of Australian embassies for spying.

She said China is extremely concerned about this report, adding that they ask all foreign embassies in China to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and not get involved with activities that harm Beijing's security and interests.

This week Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that in 2011, the NSA asked Tokyo to help it access fiber optic cables carrying communications from China. The report said Japanese officials refused over concerns it would violate Japanese wiretap laws.

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