Sydney. Australia’s defense chief admitted Thursday that military relations with Jakarta were at a “go-slow” point after the navy repeatedly breached Indonesian waters during a crackdown on people-smugglers.
General David Hurley said he had briefed Indonesian counterparts on the findings of an internal Australian review released Wednesday into six “inadvertent” incursions into the Southeast Asian nation’s territorial waters in December and January.
“Like us, they’re disappointed that it occurred, but they understand how it may have occurred,” Hurley told ABC radio. “And I think at the end of the meeting, particularly between the chiefs of navies, there was an agreement that this was an accurate summary of what had occurred and they’re accepting of that explanation.”
The territorial breaches took place during Australia’s so-called Operation Sovereign Borders mission to repel asylum-seeker boats coming largely from Indonesia — a hardline policy that has stoked tensions between the two countries.
Hurley conceded that the incident had weighed on relations already strained by a spying row late last year and a second surveillance controversy this week — both of which arose from leaks by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden.
Indonesia suspended cooperation in a number of areas including people-smuggling and military exercises over last year’s revelations that Australia had attempted to tap the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and several top officials in 2009.
“I think we’re just in a bit of a go-slow point at the moment,” Hurley said. “We still talk to each other. We still have certain levels of activity that are going on and I don’t think we’ve reduced activities to such a point that it’s not recoverable. And in fact I think both sides just want to get on [with] business as usual.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia and Indonesia were “facing some challenges… and the Australian government will do what it can to resolve them.”
Bishop said progress had been made on a code of conduct between the two countries which was stipulated by Indonesia as a condition of restoring relations, with Australia waiting to receive feedback on a first draft.
“We had a very long conversation only last week and it was a very fruitful, very productive discussion,” she said after talking to Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa. “But in the meantime our relationship across a whole range of areas, some 60 or more areas of engagement, continues to flourish.”