Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has issued a stern rebuke to Australia and the US over reported spying activities from embassies in Jakarta, describing such information gathering as “not cricket”.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Rim Association conference at Hyatt Regency in Perth this morning, Dr Natalegawa said he had personally made his country’s displeasure known to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
On behalf of Australia, Ms Bishop assumed the chairmanship of IORA for a two-year term from India at the conference this morning, with Dr Natalegawa as vice chair.
While the pair publicly congratulated each other on their appointments in front of IORA’s 20 member nations during this morning’s formal program, Dr Natalegawa later told journalists the spying reports had harmed trust between the neighbours.
“We are obviously deeply concerned and it is something we cannot accept,” he said of the reports.
Fairfax Media has reported that Australian embassies are being used as a base to secretly intercept phone calls and gather data as part of a US-led global spying network, quoting fugitive intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The reports said Australia’s top-secret Defence Signals Directorate operated the secret facilities from embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, as well as other diplomatic posts.
This morning, Dr Natalegawa said his conversation with Ms Bishop was “very frank and candid”.
“I think we have been able to communicate to foreign minister Bishop about our concern and the same communication is being submitted to their embassy in Jakarta,” Dr Natalegawa said.
Asked whether the he was concerned about intelligence being fed back to the US by Australia, Dr Natalegawa said: “Most of all it’s about trust”.
“The fact that countries have certain capacities to gather information in the way that they have is one thing. But whether you would want to put that into effect and therefore potentially damaging the trust and confidences that have been nurtured over many decades and years is something that we may want to ponder.
“If Australia was itself subject to such an activity do you consider it as being a friendly act or not?
“I’m not sure what’s the right term in Australian terminology, I guess it’s not cricket to do this kind of thing.”
Academics have speculated that much of the international angst over recent disclosures about intelligence practices – including reports the US bugged the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – has been for show, since all developed countries gather intelligence to some degree.
Asked if Indonesia ever carried out the type of activities it was criticising Australia for reportedly engaging in, Dr Natalegawa said: “We have ways and means of gaining information and we always ensure that we do things in a manner in a manner that is proper and in accordance with diplomatic practice.”Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not responded to the reports on the grounds that it is a long standing practice not to comment on intelligence matters.