Indonesia-Australia Diplomatic Tension Escalates Over Wiretapping

Indonesian activists hold a demonstration denouncing the alleged wiretapping conducted by Australia in Indonesia. Photo by Akbar Gumay, Copyright @Demotix (11/21/2013)

Indonesian activists hold a demonstration denouncing the alleged wiretapping conducted by Australia in Indonesia. Photo by Akbar Gumay, Copyright @Demotix (11/21/2013)

A diplomatic row erupted between Australia and Indonesia after a document leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that Australia's Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) has been monitoring the mobile phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his proxies for at least 15 days in 2009.

In response, Indonesia is ceasing military and intelligence cooperation starting next year aside from planning to recall its ambassador to Australia. Other affected diplomatic cooperation includes the interceptions of Australia-bound illegal immigrants and parole for Schapelle Corby, an Australian convicted for drug smuggling in Bali.

For the past few days the Australian Embassy in Jakarta has been targeted by protesters who have condemned the Australian government's surveillance as an act which undermined Indonesia's sovereignty. The protesters have been burning the Australian flag and photos of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Islamist mass organizations have also used the issue to intensify their criticism against Western powers. For example, many Indonesian Path users have been circulating a photo collage to illustrate the protesters’ antics.

demo kedubes australia

Photo collage of an imaginary phone conversation between US President Barrack Obama and Australian PM Tony Abbot regarding the flag burning in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. From Path user Wasis Gunarto.

A group of hackers called Anonymous Indonesia also attacked several websites of the Australian government last week which included the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Australian Reserve Bank (ARB).

Meanwhile, a Blackberry Broadcast Message is circulating in Jakarta where motorists are urged to honk three times in protest whenever they're passing in front of the Australian Embassy:

“Untuk menujukan Protes terhadap Australia yang telah melakukan penyadapan kepada Pemerintahan Indonesia mari kita lakukan protes kepada mereka dengan MEMBUNYIKAN Klakson Mobil atau Motor anda 3 X jika melintas di depan KEDUTAAN BESAR AUSTRALIA …”

To show our protest against Australia which has been conducting wiretapping against our government, let them know by honking your car or motorbike's klaxon three times whenever you're passing in front of the Australian Embassy.

Below are some Twitter reactions over the wiretapping scandal:

Not only Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY)'s phone needs to be protected from surveillance. Everyone deserves communication privacy. None of us would like to be tapped, right?

It is not impossible that the wiretapping frenzy with Australia is a form of play to raise the value of SBY's administration before his end of tenure.

This (scandal) indicates SBY's personal fear and panic, because the First Lady Ani Yudhoyono is among the people under surveillance.

We have to believe that truth will prevail. Time is the key. WikiLeaks: SBY Abusing His Power

Meanwhile, Mark Textor, Tony Abbot's campaign strategist and adviser, tweeted a demeaning comment comparing Indonesian Foreign Minister, Martin Natalegawa, to a 1970s Filipino porn star. Textor has offered an apology for his offensive tweet and deactivated his Twitter account.

Following Textor's remark, a Filipino-owned website Interaksyon launched a poll asking the public which 1970s Filipino adult star resembled Mr. Natalegawa.


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  • Deirdre Kennedy

    Although it does seem explicitly wrong and an infringement on Indonesian national sovereignty that Australia wiretapped the Indonesian government’s phone, it was not done without reason. To Australia, it must be incredibly important to know as much inside information about Indonesia as possible, and this was just one way of getting in the loop with that information. For example, Australia gives a lot of aid to Indonesia (according to a NY Times article,, $508 million in the last fiscal year), they are significant trade partners, the fact that Australia is a close ally to the US, the elections in Indonesia that were to take place soon after the wiretapping incident, the arab spring, and the potential for great unrest in Indonesia. For all of these reasons, it is understandable as to why Australia wanted to have more inside information on Indonesia, although their wiretapping the president was definitely not the diplomatic way to get this information.
    On the other hand, we must also recognize that Indonesia’s response was also particularly undiplomatic. Instead of responding in a mature, diplomatic way, the Indonesian government took away foreign relations with Australia, as explained int his article. Really, this is no more productive or internationally respectful than Australia’s original wiretapping. With the fact that in the past, Australia and Indonesia have met together alone four times every year, there has got to be a better way to discuss and resolve the issue diplomatically and avoid these tensions. If this is not done, not only will the international peace of the region be weakened, but also, the issue will certainly take a serious toll on both nations’ economies.

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