The Indonesian president has lamented Tony Abbott’s handling of last year’s spying row, revealing in a new book he felt betrayed by the Australian prime minister, who he had considered to be a good friend.
In the book, titled Selalu Ada Pilihan (There is Always a Choice), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono writes of a deep sense of regret over the spying controversy, which emerged in November, when relations between Indonesia and Australia were on a high.
Indonesia late last year “downgraded” its relationship with Australia, suspending military and police co-operation, including in the key area of people smuggling, in response to revelations Dr Yudhoyono, his wife and the president’s inner circle had been targeted by Australian spies.
The relationship, which the president himself described as being at an all-time high when the spying was revealed, has since plummeted to its lowest point since the 1999 East Timor crisis.
But in the book, Dr Yudhoyono makes it clear Mr Abbott’s handling of the affair and his refusal to apologise over the furore had caused the most significant damage to the bilateral relationship in recent times, and had also hurt him personally.
Dr Yudhoyono writes that he had initially refrained from ordering a harsh response to the spying revelations, but changed tack after Mr Abbott refused to apologise, and continued to insist that such espionage activities were the normal behaviour of governments.
“When my best friend Tony Abbott made several statements before the Australian parliament suggesting the case was normal and refused to apologise, I could no longer stay silent,” Dr Yudhoyono wrote in the book.
In what is perhaps another telling pointer to the level of resentment felt by the president, the 900-page book’s release, initially scheduled for December, was delayed, allowing for the addition of a chapter dedicated to the spying row, which was headed: “A leader has to be firm, but remain rational”.
The book was launched in Jakarta on Friday before a gathering of about 1000 people, including members of Indonesia’s political and business elite.
Dr Yudhoyono also writes that he could not accept the rationale behind Australia’s decision to spy on himself and his closest confidants.
“Also important is that the incident related to the moral and ethical side of being a good neighbour.”
The president makes the case in the book that Australia should also have briefed Indonesia over the so-called “Five Eyes” spying program which was conducted in partnership with the United States and other nations in the region.
“When I read the news of the wiretapping involving the US and Australia, I instructed Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to seek clarification from Australia.”
“But their reply was between `yes’ and `no’,” he wrote, in a reference to the Australian government’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of the spying program.
It also appears clear from the book that Dr Yudhoyono remains upset over the dramas of late last year, pointing out that he is yet to receive a sufficient explanation from Australia.
It was after Mr Abbott’s refusal to apologise over the eavesdropping scandal that Dr Yudhoyono ordered that co-operation be suspended on various fronts, and then insisted on a so-called “road-map” back to normal relations.