Channel NewsAsia

Indonesia, Australia look to rebuild ties as spying row ends

With the signing of an agreement to end a long-running espionage row, Indonesia and Australia will now work more closely together to tackle mutual security threats in the region.

NUSA DUA: Indonesia said it is satisfied Australian authorities will no longer use spy agencies in ways that could damage bilateral ties after signing an all-important agreement to end a long-running political spat. The two governments will now work more closely together to tackle mutual security threats in the region.

For all the focus on this Joint Understanding on a Code of Conduct, the document signed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop is just two pages long, but both governments hope it will bring an end to a damaging bilateral rift.

Dubbed a "no spying document" by Dr Marty, the agreement focuses principally on the use of surveillance assets, with both governments pledging not to use them in way that could harm the other. It stems from allegations Australian agencies listened in on the conversations of the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as well as other ministers and officials, back in 2009.

It was Mr Yudhoyono, in the 11th hour of his presidency, who insisted on and oversaw the signing. However, the wording is vague and leaves room for interpretation - a possible nod to the realities of modern-age surveillance - while at the same time putting the conflict to bed. Military exercises and joint patrol activities can be resumed immediately and when it comes to intelligence, the aim appears to be closer collaboration.

"We should not simply underscore the first element - the no spying agreement bit - but also the enhancement of the intelligence cooperation, said Dr Marty. “Having the enhanced intelligence cooperation will change the business model in a way - in the sense that there is actually no longer a need for any irregular or unlawful gathering of information or intelligence."

Australia and Indonesia are both boosting their response to the threat of regional terrorism. They share a common enemy with both nations dealing with citizens joining the ranks of the Islamic State.

Ms Bishop said more regular meetings between heads of intelligence agencies will help sharpen authorities' response to the growing problem. "These contacts are so important as we work together increasingly to meet the challenges and respond to security issues that are facing our country, the region and the globe and this includes the threat of home-grown extremists returning from conflicts in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq," she said.

In a further sign of goodwill and future cooperation, Ms Bishop said she hopes Prime Minister Tony Abbott will attend the inauguration of new Indonesian leader Joko Widodo in October.