News / Asia

Australia Seeks to Mend Ties after Indonesia Spying Scandal

FILE - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) walks beside Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Sept. 30, 2013.
FILE - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) walks beside Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Sept. 30, 2013.
Phil Mercer
Relations between Australia and Indonesia have soured in recent weeks over revelations that Australian spies tapped the phones of the Indonesian president and other top officials. This week, however, tensions started to ease with a flurry of diplomatic activity.
 
The row has affected cooperation over asylum seekers, trade, military cooperation and other issues and was kicked off when documents were released showing that Australia had spied on the Indonesian president, his wife and senior ministers. The scandal prompted Jakarta to suspend military and other cooperation, including efforts to combat trafficking gangs that ferry asylum seekers to Australia’s northern waters.
 
In a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reportedly promised to restore damaged relations.
 
Abbott’s letter has yet to be made public, but the Indonesian leader says it is an attempt to defuse the spying controversy.
 
“The commitment of the Prime Minister of Australia [is] that Australia will never do anything in the future that will bring disadvantage and disturb Indonesia,” said Yudhoyono.
 
The president also said that both countries will now devise a code of ethics to ensure relations are never destabilized in such a way again.
 
“I will assign the minister of foreign affairs or a special envoy to further and seriously discuss sensitive issues, including the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia after the tapping. For me, it's a requirement and a stepping stone,” continued Yudhoyono.
 
It is not known if Abbott has apologized to the Indonesians. The Australian Prime Minister’s initial refusal to explain why Canberra monitored the phones of senior officials prompted a furious reaction in Jakarta. There were noisy demonstrations held outside the Australian Embassy by nationalist groups.
 
Prime Minister Abbott has welcomed Indonesia’s attempts to broker a truce.
 
“What the president is proposing is that trusted envoys should meet in the next few days to resolve any outstanding issues in the relationship. I think that's a good way forward and I'm going to reflect on the statement over the next day or so and then we'll be responding more fully,” said Abbott.
 
Until the new code of ethics is formalized, bilateral cooperation on intelligence matters and people smuggling will remain suspended.
 
The Australian leader hopes the controversy will soon end.
 
“Obviously I want this to be resolved as quickly as possible. But I want it to be resolved on a strong and lasting basis. This has been a stressful week or so. In all relationships there are difficulties,” Abbott continued.
 
Despite Australia’s efforts to sooth tensions with its giant Muslim neighbor to the north, there are concerns that trade may suffer because of the spying scandal.
 
Brian Scott, the Acting Chief Executive of the Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association, said that the recent controversy is worrying Australia’s beef industry.
 
“We would all be very naïve if we thought sovereign governments didn't gather information about each other. However with that said, our industry is the most significant partner with Indonesia with respect of trade between our two countries,” said Scott

“Further, we would sincerely hope that for the benefits of the Indonesian population, and our northern cattle producers, that the situation does not impact on our trade in the short term,” he continued.
 
Trade between the two Asia-Pacific partners is worth around $11 billion each year.
 
Analysts believe that the phone-tapping row could damage commercial ties.
 
Tim Harcourt from the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales believes short-term mistrust will eventually give way to longer-term harmony.
 
“For the most part though, I think Indonesia wants food security, wants our financial services, it wants our technology, it wants access to our education institutions. So in the long run they'll want a good steady relationship with Australia. But yeah, they will be a little bit reluctant at the moment to fast track any trade or bilateral investment deals,” said Harcourt.
 
The spying controversy is the most serious threat to bilateral ties since Canberra supported the secession of East Timor from Indonesia in the late 1990s.
 
Experts say that military cooperation and joint efforts to stem a steady flow of asylum seekers leaving the Indonesia islands by boat between Jakarta and Canberra could resume within a month or two.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid