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Restoring Indonesia-Australia ties may take some time

Publication Date : 28-11-2013

 

Indonesian officials have been making gestures that they want to ease the current tension plaguing relations with Australia, but concrete results are not expected any time soon.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s proposal of drafting a code of conduct (COD) for future cooperation, including in the exchange of intelligence, was not firmly accepted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday.

In his response to Yudhoyono’s press statement on Tuesday, Abbott called the President’s statement “warm” and “very positive about Australia”, and said that his government needed a few days before “responding more fully”, the Associated Press reported.

Abbott also described Indonesia’s proposed COD as a “good way forward”. But he declined to immediately commit to the COD proposal, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. In exchange, Abbott proposed a bilateral “round table” forum on security issues.

“What I’d like to see in the future is some kind of security round table where we are more open with each other, where we build even stronger relationships of trust,” he said as quoted by Reuters. “My objective as always is to have the strongest possible relationship with Indonesia.”

Presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah said on Wednesday the “round table” format could be used to facilitate discussion on the drafting of the COD on intelligence cooperation.

“But I cannot comment further as I haven’t heard in detail in what context [Abbott proposed the round table discussion],” he said.

Abbott’s response contradicted Yudhoyono’s previous statement in which he claimed that “the Australian prime minister has agreed and supported my proposal to reshape bilateral cooperation in intelligence sharing by establishing a COD that is fair and binding”.

Yudhoyono also said that the frozen military, intelligence and information cooperation, including joint operations to handle boat people, would not be normalized until the COD was implemented and showed results.

A source at the Presidential Palace said that the impact of the deteriorating relations would gradually be felt by Australia next year unless Abbott agreed to the COD drafting.

“If there is no immediate deal on the drafting, the loss for Australia will be greater than for us,” the source said. “It will be interesting if we also decide to cancel the annual [Indonesia and Australia] consultation meeting slated to be held in Canberra in June or July next year.”

Yudhoyono has said that he would appoint Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa or another special envoy to “fully discuss sensitive issues related to the relationship after the spying row as a stepping stone toward the drafting of the COD”.

Faizasyah said the President had yet to officially name the envoy.

The President has also said that he would personally check the final draft of the COD, and he wanted it to be officiated before state leaders of both countries.

International law expert at the University of Indonesia Hikmahanto Juwana criticized Yudhoyono’s handling of the issue. He decried the President’s efforts as “bland” and “indecisive” because they “did not reflect the aspirations of the people who have been angered”.

Diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries dramatically soured last week after allegations that Australia had tapped the phones of the President and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono.

 

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