Saturday 16 Feb 2019 | 05:39 | SYDNEY
Saturday 16 Feb 2019 | 05:39 | SYDNEY

'Australia is not a good neighbour': Indonesian reactions to the spying saga



20 November 2013 11:31

The tenor of the Indonesian press response to the revelations of Australian spying was neatly summarised by yesterday's headline of the print version of Kompas, one of Indonesia's largest circulating national broadsheets: 'Australia is not a good neighbour'. 

The article's heading is taken from a quote by Mahfuz Siddiq, the head of the People's Representative Council (DPR) Commission I on intelligence, defence, foreign affairs and communications, and opens with a sub-heading also taken from Siddiq that the spying proves that 'Australia is a dangerous neighbour'.

Taking a similar approach, Koran Tempo, another of Indonesia's largest circulation papers, described the spying claims yesterday in its online editorial as 'not the actions of a friend'.

The press were largely supportive of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decision to recall Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema.

National broadsheet Media Indonesia ran a front page story yesterday (and again this morning) about the decision under the headline 'Recalling the Ambassador is considered appropriate'. The article canvassed the views of a number of senior politicians, including quoting Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's indication that 'It would not be smart to proclaim that His Excellency [Ambassador Kesoema] will only be here [in Indonesia] for one, two or three days. We asked the Ambassador not to only pack cabin baggage.'

The press and broadcast media have responded critically to Prime Minister Abbott's statements. 24 hour news channel Metro TV ran an interview with Foreign Minister Natalegawa last night, in which he rejected Abbott's response to the scandal. The Foreign Minister called Abbott's statement 'irresponsible', and, replying to questions about whether Indonesia's reaction to the spying incident would impact economic cooperation, the Foreign Minister argued that Indonesia cannot put a price on its sovereignty, adding that 'we can't accept this response from Australia'.

Sovereignty has emerged as a common thread across the coverage of number of media outlets.

Media Indonesia, for instance, ran an editorial on page one of yesterday's paper, emphasising that 'Indonesia is not an inferior nation'. The editorial states that 'As a sovereign country in our own right, we [Indonesia] should not become the plaything of others.' It goes on to say that 'Of course Indonesia must be hard on the “Kangaroo country" which has betrayed our good relations up until now'. The paper again ran a critical front page editorial this morning, calling for a tougher Indonesian government response to the violation of Indonesia's sovereignty, including by suggesting that Indonesia expel the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia.

While Indonesian media coverage of this issue has been negative across the board, the new Abbott government should be particularly concerned by suggestions in editorials and by senior politicians that Australia has breached Indonesian sovereignty.

These type of claims have historically characterised some of the most sensitive and damaging issues in the bilateral relationship, such as the West Papuan refugee crisis in 2006 and Australia's support for East Timorese independence. Its presence in the public discourse should be taken as a clear sign — if one were needed — that public sentiment towards Australia has truly soured.

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