Indonesia summons Australia envoy as spy row spreads in Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 5:35pm

Indonesia summoned the Australian ambassador in Jakarta on Friday over a report his embassy was part of a vast US-led surveillance network, as the spying row that has soured US-Europe relations spread in Asia.

As Secretary of State John Kerry admitted US spying had sometimes gone too far, concern was growing in Asia, with China among countries demanding answers from Washington over reports of clandestine surveillance.

The row erupted in the region after The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, amplifying an earlier story by German magazine Der Spiegel, this week reported a top-secret map leaked by fugitive intelligence analyst Edward Snowden showed 90 US surveillance facilities at diplomatic missions worldwide.

Its reports focused on secret US intelligence facilities in Asia and also said Australian diplomatic posts were being used to monitor phone calls and collect data as part of the American surveillance network.

Widespread reports of US National Security Agency spying based on leaks from Snowden, including that the agency was monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, had already sparked a major trans-Atlantic rift.

But the latest reports have brought the scandal to Asia, a region where Washington has been seeking to improve ties in recent years to counter growing Chinese dominance.

Indonesia has so far been the most vocal nation in Asia over the reported spying, earlier this week summoning the top US diplomat in the country over reports of clandestine surveillance from its embassy in Jakarta.

On Friday, Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty was summoned to the foreign ministry in Jakarta after The Sydney Morning Herald reported his embassy was being used in the US spying operation.

After a 20-minute meeting in the ministry, Moriarty told a scrum of reporters: “I just spoke to the secretary general, and from my perspective, it was a good meeting and now I have to go and report directly to my government.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa described the reported spying activities as “just not cricket”.

Natalegawa, speaking Friday after talks with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in Perth, said his government was “obviously deeply concerned”.

“Most of all, it’s about trust,” he said, adding: “I’m not sure what’s the right term in Australian terminology, I guess it’s not cricket to do this kind of thing.”

Bishop said that Natalegawa had “raised his concerns, I took them on board and I take them seriously, but the Australian government does not and will not comment on intelligence matters”.

The row is another blow to ties between Canberra and Jakarta, which have been tested by new Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s hardline policies on trying to stop asylum seekers who board boats in Indonesia from arriving in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the secret map showed there were US intelligence facilities at diplomatic posts across Southeast Asia as well as in East Asia, where activities were focused on China.

Beijing responded to the reports on Thursday by expressing “severe concerns”.

“We require the US to make a clarification and give an explanation,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters.

“We require friendly diplomatic missions and personnel in China to strictly abide by international treaties ... and do not engage in any activity that ... may jeopardise China’s security and interests.”

In Malaysia, the foreign minister said it had “sought clarification” from the US ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Yun, over the allegations.

The ministry “is working closely with the relevant Malaysian authorities on this matter and should there be any compelling evidence, the ministry would seek recourse,” it said in a statement.

The reaction from other Southeast Asian nations mentioned in The Sydney Morning Herald report was more muted, however, with Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar seeking to downplay the issue.

Meanwhile, Kerry sought to calm the row by admitting that spying had sometimes gone too far and by offering assurances that such steps would not be repeated.

“I assure you, innocent people are not being abused in this process, but there’s an effort to try to gather information,” Kerry told a London conference via video link. “And yes, in some cases, it has reached too far, inappropriately.”