Spying row gives Indonesia upper hand over Australia

Spying row gives Indonesia upper hand over Australia
Anti-Australia protesters gesture and shout during a rally in front of Australia embassy in Jakarta on November 22, 2013. Indonesia's former spy chief has said intelligence agencies tapping the phones of national leaders is "normal", and dismissed as an overreaction Jakarta's furious response to reports Australia spied on the president's calls.

After a week of escalating tensions, an end to the spying row between Jakarta and Canberra appears to be in sight.

On Tuesday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he welcomed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's response to his letter seeking a code of ethics on future intelligence and military exchanges. Mr Abbott, he said, had agreed to his proposal.

The news, coming eight days after disclosures that Australia had wiretapped the mobile phones of Dr Yudhoyono, his wife and Indonesian leaders, has made President appear firm, yet reasonable.

But the jury is still out on whether his handling of the matter will, as some have suggested, boost his approval ratings, let alone that of his battered Democrat Party.

What the events have highlighted is that the leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, and Dr Yudhoyono's response, may have given Indonesia the upper hand as it seeks to redraw its security relationship with Australia.

"Australia's readiness to work together on a code of conduct is good for public perception towards SBY (Dr Yudhoyono)," Mr Bawono Kumoro of The Habibie Centre told The Straits Times.

"But what was unsaid was whether there was an apology from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the public was hoping for that."

To recap: When the disclosures broke on Monday last week, Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Australia the same day.

Dr Yudhoyono suspended all security exchanges with Canberra on Wednesday, firing off his letter on intelligence and the military to Mr Abbott. Over the next two days, protesters demonstrated outside the heavily guarded Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

By Saturday, Dr Yudhoyono had received Mr Abbott's reply in Bali, where he was on a working trip.

This Tuesday, he met key Cabinet ministers to discuss a response, which he then announced to the media, without giving details of Mr Abbott's remarks.

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