The Jakarta Post | Editorial | Sun, November 24 2013, 10:24 AM
If only President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was constitutionally eligible for a third term next year, the ongoing diplomatic spat with Australia would have been a blessing in disguise.
The explanation is very simple. The nation is fully united behind him. Even his critics and the opposition have appreciated his “retaliatory” moves to counter the humiliation of the state’s largest symbol, the presidency, by Canberra. Yudhoyono ordered Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to recall the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, on Tuesday and the next day he suspended bilateral cooperative projects, including operations to curb boat people bound for Australia, joint military exercises and the sharing of intelligence information.
Such speed and decisiveness usually eludes the President, but not this time around. Yudhoyono joined the wave of nationalist sentiment in the face of a neighbor that apparently deems Indonesia a threat rather than a partner. Some have suggested that Indonesia expel the Australian ambassador in Jakarta, but the President does not appear to want to go that far.
Ties between Indonesia and Australia have plunged to a new low, after the media Down Under revealed that a number of prominent figures in Jakarta, including Yudhoyono and his wife, became the targets of Canberra’s eavesdropping operations back in 2009.
There have been no details as to why the Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) under the Australian intelligence agency allegedly monitored the cell phone activity of the Indonesian VVIPs. Then law and human rights minister Hamid Awaluddin speculated the surveillance could be related to Indonesia’s plan to buy Russian submarines, given that then state enterprises minister Sofyan Djalil and finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who were involved in the submarine procurement talks, were on the list of those wiretapped. Indonesia eventually dropped the bid, citing financial constraints.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who only last month met Yudhoyono in Jakarta for the first time since winning the election and reunited with the Indonesian leader at the East Asia Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, a few days later, fueled more anger for his failure to apologize to Indonesia.
The wildfire of fury swept from the Presidential Palace to the streets, where protesters rallied outside the Australian Embassy in South Jakarta on Thursday to demand the neighboring country’s admission of guilt. Pressure is also mounting at home on Abbott to apologize for the sake of the future of bilateral relations.
So far, Abbott and his supporters have not been willing to budge, particularly after Australian media brought up a 2004 interview with former National Intelligence Agency (BIN) head Hendropriyono, who said Indonesia had wiretapped Australian politicians to monitor the development of the Timor Leste issue years earlier.
A former Indonesian military general says Indonesia’s anger with Australia is important for upholding ethics in international relations, but the intelligence community will not make a big fuss of the surveillance saga because countries do spy on one another. The scandal, he insists, teaches Indonesia a lesson that its counterintelligence mechanism does not work properly, which is unacceptable because it puts national security at risk. Instead of demanding an apology from Australia , which is unlikely, Indonesia should improve its counterintelligence capability.
Like it or not, the diplomatic tension is a welcome episode for the President and his beleaguered Democratic Party, which is struggling to restore public confidence after a series of corruption cases involving a number of party members have battered its popularity among voters.
It is natural for Yudhoyono as Democratic Party chairman to show anger toward Australia, as it is for other political parties that have been playing the nationalist card to woo voters ahead of the elections. The history of Indonesia-Australia diplomatic ties has seen its ups and downs, however. The two survived one of the worst episodes of their co-existence in 1999, when Australia supported East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. Therefore, there should be no question about whether the two neighbors will again move past their differences, although it remains uncertain when.
The feud with Australia did not spoil the historic visit of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the former colony of his country. During his midweek trip, Rutte was accompanied by representatives of more than 100 Dutch companies, which the prime minister dubbed “the largest ever Dutch trade mission to Indonesia”.
Of course the mission would not emulate the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), whose arrival in the 17th century marked the start of hundreds of years of colonization in the archipelago.
After bilateral talks with Yudhoyono on Wednesday, Rutte took a city tour with Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo serving as his guide. Rutte did not give any statement during his brief inspection of Jakarta’s flood prevention system, including the future giant seawall project in North Jakarta. Neither did the prime minister pledge assistance to the Jokowi administration.
The city tour was quite special as Rutte was flanked by two potential future Indonesian leaders. Apart from Jokowi, who has consistently been heading popularity polls of potential presidential candidates, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, who is taking part in the Democratic Party-administered national convention, accompanied Rutte.
THE onus now resides with Tony Abbott to demonstrate a flexible and new approach to intelligence and security issues by offering concessions when he replies to the letter from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Nothing else will suffice. The key to the Prime Minister's reply must be the recognition that this is not just an intelligence crisis with Indonesia. It is a political crisis. It must be treated as a political crisis. That dictates against the mere "neither confirm nor deny" stance, plus regrets taken by Abbott, because this position cannot satisfy the political pressures now unleashed.
It is easy to assert, and certainly true, that Yudhoyono has overreacted. But that testifies to the personal insult he feels, the extent of anti-Australian sentiment within Indonesia's political system and the failure of Abbott's initial statement.
The responsibility now rests with Abbott to offer concessions to appease Yudhoyono and give him some leverage, not just to halt further retaliation but to restore the suspended co-operation on people-smuggling activity and military ties.
The truth is that Australia now operates in a fog of uncertainty. Neither Abbott nor his advisers know what exactly is needed to fix this problem. It would be folly for Abbott to try to cure anti-Australian sentiment on the Indonesian street. His sole aim must to convince Yudhoyono by word and deed that Australia wants to rectify the situation.
Security expert and Australian National University professor Hugh White tells Inquirer: "Intelligence is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. Abbott's task now is to repair the political relationship with Indonesia even if that involves damage to our intelligence capability."
It is the core point. As former US assistant secretary of state for East Asia Kurt Campbell, now visiting this country as a Lowy fellow, says, the combination of WikiLeaks and the mass release of secrets from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has transformed the norms surrounding intelligence policy. Abbott is in a situation where nobody knows how the new norms will evolve.
The situation has declined since Abbott's statement to parliament last Tuesday. Indonesia feels a double insult: its President has been spied on and Abbott's response has triggered a new wave of anger from Jakarta.
In Abbott's reply to Yudhoyono, he must get pro-active and find a new formula. In his statement, Yudhoyono seemed to give Abbott negotiating flexibility.
The Australian government still has faith in Yudhoyono. Abbott believes he remains our friend. The government's assessment is that Yudhoyono is under intense domestic pressure and had to respond.
"Abbott's initial statement was dismissive of Indonesia's concerns," White says. "He was really saying, 'We will spy on whoever we want and that will be good for us and good for Indonesia.' He now needs to find a new formula that can placate Indonesia and that won't be easy."
Yudhoyono has ordered a series of unfriendly actions against Australia. He envisages they may be temporary. The assumption is that he is merely turning up the political heat on Abbott to force concessions. Australian officials told Inquirer last night there was little operational impact so far.
If, however, Yudhoyono's retaliation becomes a new and permanent policy then Australian-Indonesian ties will face a full-blown crisis with disastrous consequences.
Abbott faces a huge task: to restore the status quo ante. Is that possible? Nobody knows. But it means sitting pat is not an option.
If the spiral is not reversed then recriminations will intensify. Anti-Australian sentiment in Indonesia's media and streets will feed a backlash in this country from media, talkback radio and Indonesian loathers, only intensified if Jakarta's retaliation produces an upsurge in boat arrivals and the destruction of one of Abbott's core pledges as Prime Minister.
Both nations are hooked on the sovereignty issue. Given Indonesia's fragility as a nation-state, this is an obsession. But when Abbott first visited Jakarta after becoming PM he said in public and private to Yudhoyono that the boats issue was about Australia's sovereignty.
He chose those words deliberately. He meant them. It is doubtful if Jakarta fully comprehends this: it may regard the boats as a minor irritant it can turn on and off to provoke better Australian behaviour.
Abbott's position is far more difficult than appreciated.
Abbott is not going to apologise. Yudhoyono has not asked for an apology. He asks for an explanation for the spying against himself, his wife, cabinet members and close advisers in 2009 under Kevin Rudd's government. He is not satisfied with Abbott's comments so far. He seeks new and binding protocols covering security and intelligence and a code of conduct.
Presumably, Abbott will agree in principle to negotiate such arrangements. He will offer Yudhoyono an expanded intelligence-sharing deal between Australia and Indonesia. This was Abbott's plan before the crisis blew up. He discussed it when Vice-President Boediono recently visited this country. This situation gives Abbott potential to offer concessions to Yudhoyono short of an apology or grievously compromising our intelligence activity. It remains unclear, however, how far Abbott needs to go.
Offering Yudhoyono an explanation leads to the pivotal issue: does Abbott give assurances of no future intelligence operations against the Indonesian President? This is what Yudhoyono must prefer. It is the promise US President Barack Obama gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel, so a precedent exists.
From his remarks, Abbott seems determined to avoid this position. So does Australia's national security establishment. Given Australia's intelligence activity across Southeast Asia, any such public pledge would extend the problem, make it regional and provoke demands from other nations - think Malaysia and Papua New Guinea - for the same assurance. It would become farcical.
In careful comments this week, Campbell said the Obama-Merkel situation was not the same as Australia-Indonesia. It is the truth people want to ignore. Australia has many reasons to run intelligence on Indonesia and its location as a source of Islamist terrorism that has led to many Australian deaths cannot be ignored.
The undisguised preference of the Labor Party for the Obama-Merkel formula only complicates Abbott's dilemma and weakens his bargaining position with Yudhoyono. But this concession can be avoided only if Abbott can produce an alternative formulation satisfactory to Yudhoyono. This is the challenge.
Abbott's problem is that if our major intelligence partner, the US, has adopted this formula, how tenable is it for Australia to reject this approach when confronted by the leader of a close and friendly nation who is deeply offended by being made an intelligence target?
The standoff is riddled with hypocrisy. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has led the charge against the Coalition from the day of its election, denied that Indonesia listened to the phone calls of friends. "We don't do it," he said. That is a false statement. The Abbott government knows it is false. The former head of Badan Intelijen Negara, Indonesia's national intelligence agency, has contradicted Natalegawa. Such deceptions do not help.
The further truth is that Australian intelligence operations in Indonesia have been used, as Abbott implied, as part of counter-terrorism measures that contribute to the safety of Indonesians.
Meanwhile, the chief of Indonesia's intelligence agency, Marciano Norman, was reported in The Australian this week as saying a deal had been done with Australian agencies on no more wiretapping and this was concluded before the Snowden revelations.
The point is that beneath the politics there is another reality: Australian and Indonesian agencies are well aware of their respective capabilities. Yudhoyono, as a former co-ordinating minister for security, is aware of these capability though, of course, was angered to find himself a target.
This crisis is sure to re-draw the map on intelligence. WikiLeaks and Snowden have changed the ground rules. Intelligence operations against friendly leaders work only when kept secret. If they cannot be kept secret they are not worth conducting; if they are not worth conducting, pressure will mount to formalise this.
The ANU's White says: "Ordinary intelligence leaks are deniable. But this situation is different. Snowden had the documents and the response of the Obama administration has really validated these documents.
"Abbott's problem is that this situation is different. The normal confirmation or deny rules won't work on this issue with Indonesia."
Abbott's statement last Tuesday was technically perfect: every nation conducts intelligence; he would not apologise for protecting the national interest; he would not give details of our intelligence operations; he regarded Yudhoyono as one of our "very best friends" in the world.
Yet the Prime Minister missed the political chemistry. Having said in Jakarta that there was no more important nation than Indonesia, he failed to put this principle into action over the intelligence insult to Yudhoyono.
Now Abbott has another chance, with his written reply to Yudhoyono's letter. Abbott has a lot at stake. Consider the list. Indonesia has the power to ruin Abbott's pledge to stop the boats. It can destroy his "Jakarta not Geneva" foreign policy. It can weaken Australia's regional position.
A rational Indonesia would do none of this.
So Abbott must encourage the forces of rationality in Jakarta. The principle of interdependence needs to be resurrected.
TEMPO.CO, Denpasar - Following the strained diplomatic relation between Indonesia and Australia over spying row, the security at the Australian embassy and a number of Australian consulates has been increased, including the building of the Australian consulate general in Bali.
However, as of now, Bali police have yet to deploy more security personnel but the quality of security measures, such as the duration of the security measure, has been increased, said Head of Public Relations Division of Bali Police, AKBP Haryadi to Tempo yesterday.
"We have not added the number of security personnel, but we've improved the quality of the security measures," Haryadi said.
Bali police have also made measures to guarantee the safety for Australian tourists coming to Bali but no special security measures have been in place because on the grounds, the police found difficulty recognizing Australian tourists.
Labor deputy Tanya Plibersek has criticised the Prime Minister's handling of relations with Indonesia after the fallout from revelations of Australian spying.
Speaking to the ABC's Insiders program, Ms Plibersek pointed to several "mis-steps" in Mr Abbott's efforts to deal with the crisis, which was sparked by news that Australian spies tapped the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle, including his wife.
An angry Mr Yudhoyono last week said all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia was on hold until he received a proper explanation.
Mr Abbott, who says one of his priorities as Prime Minister is to maintain a strong relationship with Indonesia, wrote a letter to Mr Yudhoyono about the affair, which on Sunday afternoon the Indonesian leader was said to be examining.
The Government has kept the contents of the letter to itself, but Ms Plibersek says it should "assure the Indonesian president that we are friends of Indonesia and that we are keen to re-establish normal relationships as quickly as possible".
"We need to see whether they re-establish normal relationships," she said.
"We've seen a number of areas of cooperation under stress or suspended. I think the proof will obviously be in the pudding, if that cooperation's restored to its normal settings then we will know that the letter has been successful."
However, the Deputy Opposition Leader believes Mr Abbott has not handled the fallout from the revelations well.
"I don't know that it has been a terrific performance when it comes to handling the diplomatic crisis," she said.
"There were, I suppose, a few mis-steps before this and then I think the two occasions when the PM's addressed the Parliament were really a long way from helping settle things down.
"I don't think really what he said to the Parliament has settled things down at all."
Labor's role in spying 'separate' to diplomatic row
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has advocated a "Team Australia" approach to diplomacy over the crisis, saying it is not a "Liberal or Labor issue."
He said on Sunday the issue is above political point-scoring and he would not give Mr Abbott advice on diplomacy through the media.
"Now is the time for cool heads and careful words. We cannot disguise the fact that our Indonesian friends have been offended - we've got to recognise that," he said.
"I think all Australians are disturbed with what's happened over the last few weeks with the [Australia-Indonesia relationship] and want to see things get back on track.
"That's what people expect their members of parliament to do when you've got these difficult situations - to see some mature experience, not simple political point-scoring."
Ms Plibersek earlier sought to distance Labor's role in the affair, saying that whether or not the spying occurred under Kevin Rudd when he was prime minister was a "separate thing" to diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia.
"The diplomatic relationship, how we get on, is not determined by this one event or any particular event, it's about trust and open communication and relationships at all levels of government over a number of years," she said.
"I'm sure that we will get the relationship back on track, but we need to do it quickly and that's why, I guess, so much is hanging on this letter that the PM has sent to the Indonesian president."
Ms Plibersek suggested the rift with Indonesia had been exacerbated by the Coalition's policy statements in the lead-up to the election, and Mr Abbott had done little since to repair any damage.
"I think certainly the Indonesians were very disappointed to hear during the election campaign the Coalition talking about stopping the boats, buying back the boats, turning back the boats, things that were - policies that were to take place on Indonesian soil or in Indonesian waters without having ever discussed that with the Indonesians," she said.
I'm sure that we will get the relationship back on track, but we need to do it quickly and that's why, I guess, so much is hanging on this letter that the PM has sent to the Indonesian president.
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek
"And then of course when the PM was in Indonesia locking the Indonesian press out of his press conference, I don't think [that] has disposed the Indonesian media to be particularly interested in settling things down now either.
"The thing about a relationship between two countries is it's never one event that makes things go smoothly or diverts things from a smooth path.
"It's a relationship over very many years, and over very many years both sides of politics have sought to improve our relationship with Indonesia.
"From the 1940s onwards we've had a very good relationship that's built over time, certainly I give [former Liberal prime minister John] Howard great credit for the swift way that he responded to the tsunami and the billion-dollar contribution then certainly was a great thing for our relationship with Indonesia, just as [former Labor prime minister] Paul Keating's visits there in the '90s were very important for establishing a strong diplomatic relationship.
"Each government has done its best to improve and strengthen the relationship.
"I think we need to get back onto that track of growing friendship and growing trust as quickly as we can."
Indonesia reaction fostering 'negative attitudes': Downer
Meanwhile, Australia's longest-serving foreign minister Alexander Downer says he believes Indonesia's reaction to the spying scandal is generating negative attitudes among Australians towards Indonesia.
"I think initially Australians thought, 'whoops, it looks like we've done something wrong here'," Mr Downer told Sky News.
"But the reaction from Indonesia has ramped up day by day, and a lot of the rhetoric has been very fiery rhetoric and that's made Australians recoil a little bit."
Mr Downer suggested setting up an intelligence code of conduct with Indonesia.
Ms Plibersek told Insiders unhelpful comments had been made on both sides of the dispute.
"I think if you look at what's happening in both Australia and Indonesia at the moment, you see people engaging in the public debate that are not interested in settling things down or sorting things out," she said.
"We've seen commentary in Australia, we've seen commentary in Indonesia that's not helpful when it comes to restoring the relationship. I don't agree with those sentiments."