Anger spawned by lack of trust from 'close friend'

Anger spawned by lack of trust from 'close friend'
Islamic Defenders Front members shout slogans as they burn a plastic sheet with pictures of Australian and US flags during a protest in from of the Australian embassy in Jakarta on November 22.

INDONESIA - RISING tensions between Indonesia and Australia over revelations of electronic surveillance have some observers wondering what is all the fuss.

After all, countries around the world have spied on one another throughout history.

What angers Indonesia in this case, though, is that the recent disclosures reveal that a neighbour it views as a close friend and strategic partner still sees it as a potential threat.

Comments from some Australian officials and others made matters worse, and trust is dwindling rapidly.

In a piece widely picked up by Indonesian media outlets, Canberra Times columnist Philip Dorling wrote this week: "Behind all the declarations of friendship and good neighbourliness by successive Australian governments, Canberra just doesn't trust Jakarta… We never have, and probably never will."

The crisis has seen military, information and intelligence exchanges put on hold - the fear is trade talks may be next - and there is growing pressure on Australia to not just make amends, but make clear how it really views its largest neighbour.

It has been suggested in Canberra and elsewhere that it was naive of Indonesia to think there was no need for friends to listen in on one another.

But that misses the point. Disclosures that Australian intelligence had tapped the cellphone of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and top officials were a personal affront and a loss of face to many.

"There have been gross breaches of the privacy of the Indonesian leadership," former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans told a Jakarta Post forum yesterday. "I perfectly understand the anger."

There is now pressure on Dr Yudhoyono's government to stand up and show its citizens and Canberra that Indonesia cannot be taken for granted.

Mr Sabam Siagian, Indonesia's ambassador to Australia from 1991 to 1995, believes that part of the problem is that while Australia's broad relationship with Indonesia has expanded vastly over the past decades, its intelligence infrastructure remains a relic of the Cold War, and of the days of Konfrontasi.

"Here we have a short circuit," he told The Straits Times. "You can't spy on a strategic partner."

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.