CANBERRA — Australia has downplayed tensions with nearby Asian countries and has worked to repair diplomatic relations with them, following revelations they spied on the Indonesian president and comments they made that angered China.
The diplomatic row over spying with Indonesia has eased, following a letter the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, had had hand-delivered to the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, outlined to Indonesia Australia’s position on the issue. However, Jakarta has said that Australia is sending mixed messages on future spying, saying they believed Australia had agreed to a “no further espionage” future.
Mr Abbott told media here that this wasn’t the case. When asked whether Australia had agreed to stop gathering intelligence on Indonesia, he said: “No. And they certainly haven’t agreed to stop collecting intelligence on Australia.”
China has also criticised Australia for poor diplomacy and for making “irresponsible remarks” over their newly declared “air defence zone” in the Easy China Sea over contested, uninhabited islands. The zone has been condemned and largely ignored by the West.
The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said that the timing of China’s announcement on the “air defence zone” was “unhelpful in light of regional tensions, and will not contribute to regional stability.”
Ms Bishop said at a press conference in Beijing on December 7, that she believed the relationship between China and Australia was a strong one and allowed for the two countries to speak with open-minds to each other.
“[At the end of a four hour meeting with the Chinese foreign ministry] I cam away convinced that our relationship is strong, it is robust,” she said.
“Australia is concerned that there to be peace and stability in our region, and we don’t want to see any escalation of the tensions, we want to see a de-escalation of tensions,” Ms Bishop added, in response to a question asking what Australia’s main concern of China’s self-declared “air defence zone” was.
Ms Bishop has spent the past four days in Asia, on a trip that can be seen to have been used to take the strain of Australia’s relationships with its northern neighbours. She visited Indonesia, Beijing and the Philippines.