Australia and Indonesia agree to restore security ties

Australia and Indonesia agree to restore security ties
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left) and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) shake hands during their meeting in Indonesia's Batam island on June 4, 2014. Australia and Indonesia have agreed to resume intelligence and military cooperation, officials from both countries said on Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014, ending a rift that erupted late last year over Australian spying.

SINGAPORE - Indonesia and Australia have reached a deal to restore defence and intelligence cooperation, smoothing over a rough patch between the two neighbours sparked by revelations late last year that Canberra had tapped the cellphones of top Indonesian leaders.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is expected to travel to Jakarta to sign an agreement with Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, in the presence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the coming weeks.

Dr Teuku Faizasyah, the presidential spokesman on foreign affairs, confirmed that an agreement had been reached, and both sides were trying to find a suitable time to ink it.

"It is a commitment from the two sides that they will not misuse technological advances to disrupt relations between both sides," he told The Straits Times. "Once it is signed, we can move forward with greater trust and confidence."

The signing will be one of the last few significant foreign policy measures before Dr Yudhoyono hands over power to President- elect Joko Widodo on Oct 20.

But Dr Faizasyah added that Dr Yudhoyono was not trying to seal his legacy, as some had suggested, but close the loop on this chapter and ensure future governments had a document to guide security cooperation.

Security ties were strained last October when former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed that Canberra had tapped the phones of the President, his wife and top officials. Dr Yudhoyono ordered a halt to military, information and intelligence exchanges with Australia, recalled the Indonesian ambassador, and called for a code of conduct to restore such ties.

The two foreign ministers have been in close contact to repair ties since then, and progress on a deal saw Indonesia's ambassador returning to Canberra in May and Dr Yudhoyono meeting Prime Minister Tony Abbott in June, where they discussed restoring security ties fully.

Yesterday, Ms Bishop told Australia's Fairfax Media: "We will not be using our intelligence resources to harm Indonesia's interests." She added that both sides were working closely in the field of intelligence on common risks including foreign fighters.

Dozens of nationals of both countries have been fighting in Syria and Iraq, many of them linked to the Jemaah Islamiah regional terror network.

The Australian newspaper reported that the name of the pact came about as a compromise: Canberra wanted it called a "joint understanding" to keep it relatively vague, but Jakarta wanted "code of conduct" to make it more specific and prescriptive. The result is that it will be called a "Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct".

zakirh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2014.
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