Indonesia described reports that Australia had listened in on government trade discussions with lawyers as mind-boggling, saying that to contend they had anything to do with security was going too far.
Often prickly relations have hit a new low since Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott took office in September last year, with Jakarta furious at reports that Australia wiretapped the telephones of top Indonesian officials, including the president and his wife.
“To suggest that the future of shrimp exports by Indonesia to the United States has an impact on Australian security is a little too much and begs some serious questions as to what it’s all about,” Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa said at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jakarta.
“In our view, neighbors like Indonesia and Australia should be looking out for each other, not turning against each other,” he added.
Natalegawa’s comments follow media revelations at the weekend that Australia notified the US National Security Agency (NSA) that it was conducting surveillance of talks between the Indonesian government and an unnamed US law firm on bilateral trade.
A top-secret document obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows the firm was monitored while representing the Indonesian government in trade disputes with the US, according to the New York Times.
Abbott said the government did not comment on operational matters, but that intelligence is not used for commercial purposes, according to media.
Natalegawa said he was unsatisfied with the Australian response.
“I have come across statements that Australia collects intelligence to save Australian lives, lives of other people, to promote Australian values,” Natalegawa said.
“But I must say I find it a bit mind-boggling, a bit difficult how I can reconcile discussions about shrimps and the impact on Australian security,” he added.
Relations between the two neighbors have also been strained over asylumseekers who attempt to reach Australia via Indonesia. Australia has started implementing a “turn back the boats” policy, which Natalegawa has criticized as “unhelpful.”
Indonesia suspended police and intelligence cooperation on asylumseekers with its neighbor late last year following the earlier reports of wiretapping of top officials.
When asked about the US response to the surveillance issue, Kerry cited a series of reforms to US intelligence-gathering operations.
“We take this issue very seriously, which is why [US] President [Barack] Obama laid out a series of concrete and substantial reforms. The president said in his speech on this subject, the United States does not collect intelligence to afford a competitive advantage for US companies or US commercial sectors,” he said.
Kerry visited the Indonesian capital during a trip to Asia and the Middle East, that included a stop in Beijing last week.