Channel NewsAsia

Australia, Indonesia to sign Code of Conduct to help repair ties

Australia and Indonesia will sign a Code of Conduct to govern diplomatic ties on Thursday (Aug 28). The foreign ministers of both countries say the signing will help repair a bilateral relationship damaged by a spying scandal last year.

NUSA DUA: Australia and Indonesia will sign a Code of Conduct to govern diplomatic ties on Thursday (Aug 28). The foreign ministers of both countries say the signing will help repair a bilateral relationship damaged by a spying scandal last year. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will witness the signing - which signals a restart in bilateral ties - by foreign ministers Julie Bishop and Marty Natalegawa.

Last year, Dr Yudhoyono was angered by revelations that Australia's Defence Signals Directorate had eavesdropped on his phone conversations as well as that of his wife and his inner circle. In response, Indonesia suspended joint cooperation with Australia on people smuggling, military drills and intelligence sharing.

Ties were already on the rocks when Jakatra strongly rejected Canberra's hardline tow back policy to curb people smuggling, but Australia says they are ready to mend ties with the signing of this code of conduct. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bishop said: "Essentially it's about respecting each other's sovereignty and not using our assets in any way that would harm each other's interests."

Indonesia and Australia already have in place a mutual security agreement known as the Lombok Treaty that was signed in 2006. But the key for Indonesia is that this code of conduct puts the focus on intelligence gathering activities.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Natalegawa said: “Pleased that we are able to agree on a document which I think will be a precedent setting - not only between Indonesia and Australia but potentially for other countries as well. It is essentially a no spying agreement to put it simply, but while I’m satisfied in that regard, at the same time I have a little bit of mixed feelings because we should not be in this situation in the first place."

Looking forward, Bishop said Canberra wants to strengthen bilateral ties ahead of the swearing-in of the new Indonesian President. She told Channel NewsAsia that she is confident president-elect Joko Widodo will continue the strong focus on Australia-Indonesia relations that President Yudhoyono had laid during his administration.

The signing of the Code of Conduct is an integral step in normalising bilateral relations. But the real test for both nations will be in the months and years ahead - negotiating inevitable political differences while trying to forge a firmer, mutually beneficial relationship.