Friday, 27 September 2013

Indonesia won't cooperate with Abbott on asylum seekers

Translating the language of domestic politics into something that foreign governments can understand is turning out to be a problem for Tony Abbott and his foreign minister. Julie Bishop met with her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa in New York recently in a frosty one-on-one that Bishop tried to spin domestically as "positive". Clearly it was anything but, with Natalegawa now releasing publicly a transcript of the meeting's discussions. Given the high degree of secrecy sought by the Abbott government, in its attempt to subvert the 24-hour media cycle at home, the publication is a severe embarrassment and the Indonesians know it, having picked up on the "calm, measured" tone the Australian government is looking to generate in the domestic media. "Look," Natalegawa seems to be saying, "if you guys can't come up with an approach that suits Indonesia we won't cooperate and we'll even go out of our way to make you look bad at home." Indonesia wants to handle the asylum seeker issue through the existing Bali Process and resents the Abbott government's implementing radical measures that largely ignore Indonesia's feelings. A three-star general in charge of the operation? Really? Frankly I agree with Natalegawa. If I hear Julie Bishop use the word "operational" once more I think I'll scream. And "Operation Sovereign Borders"? I wonder how Indonesia feels about Australia's respect for sovereignty given East Timor. Of course Natalegawa could just be playing Bishop so that Yudhoyono can look like a champ when Abbott visits Jakarta - as he is soon due to do - and claim the credit domestically himself.

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