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Indonesians think Prime Minister Tony Abbott is inflaming tensions for political gain over asylum seekers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

Indonesia believes Tony Abbott may be deliberately inflaming tensions between the two countries for political reasons and to allow his government to continue turning back asylum seeker boats.

Apparent sabre-rattling over the matter intensified in Indonesia on Thursday with an air force spokesman reported as saying ''Australia is reachable'' by its 16 Sukhoi warplanes based in Makassar in the event of a confrontation, and a navy spokesman reportedly saying extra warships had been deployed.

But the comments seem to have been overblown or taken out of context, with navy and air force personnel confirming to Fairfax Media there had been no change to routine monitoring of air and sea borders.

Government spokesman Agus Barnas said Mr Abbott's blunt comments in Davos about sovereignty ''will only worsen the prospects'' of trying to normalise relations.

''It may be [that Prime Minister Abbott is deliberately making inflammatory statements] because he's tied to his campaign promises,'' said Mr Agus, the spokesman for co-ordinating security minister Djoko Suyanto.

''Maybe he is also receiving big pressure domestically, but turning back boats is not the answer, because that only benefits one party, namely Australia.''

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's special adviser for political affairs, Daniel Sparringa, agreed Mr Abbott was being deliberately provocative. "He has done more damage than good. Such a pity."

Mr Agus saw only one way to restore the Australia-Indonesia relationship: ''Just stop sending boats back … just focus on the road map [developed after the spying scandal] and stop producing statements that can worsen the situation''.

Mr Abbott, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop have all been adamant they will continue to turn boats back to Indonesia, despite its concerns. Ms Bishop confirmed the stance again yesterday.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bown said on Friday that the plunge in Australia's relationship with Indonesia was ''very serious''.

In an interview with ABC radio, Mr Bowen said the Indonesia government had been warning ''for a long, long time'' that it would not accept the Abbott government's policy of towing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters.

''Well before the election, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop had plenty of warning that this would be the inevitable result of their pig-headed policy,'' Mr Bowen said.

''I remember Kevin Rudd warning of this and the Liberal Party laughing that off and saying it'd be alright . . . [that] we should just trust them to implement it in office.''

The Jakarta Post suggested Indonesia was arraying its naval and air hardware against Australia. It quoted Air Commodore Hadi Tjajanto as saying: ''If we notice any border violation, Makassar will be ready. Australia is reachable from there'' by war planes.

But he told Fairfax Media: ''It's our routine monitoring of national air space. Nothing is extraordinary … no extra orders, and we have received no significant report of any air space violation''.

The newspaper quoted navy Commodore Untung Surapati saying craft had been moved south to the maritime border with Australia.

But Lieutenant Colonel Yayan Sugiana, spokesman for the navy's eastern fleet charged with patrolling south of Indonesia, said his group had no special orders and had deployed no extra ships.

''To my knowledge there is nothing extraordinary in terms of our patrolling of the border,'' he said.

Asked about fears that rising tensions may lead to armed conflict, Mr Djoko's spokesman, Agus Barnas said: ''Oh no, it's very far away''.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Natalie Sambhi said naval deployments ''should not be seen as threatening to Australia''.

''They should be understood as part of the ordinary course of Indonesian politics responding to public sensitivities on matters of sovereignty.''

In Davos overnight, Indonesian foreign minister minister Marty Natalegawa was asked if the two countries were on a war footing.

''No, not really,'' he said.

Despite the current ''difficult patch'', the two countries had a good overall relationship.

On operational matters regarding ships and radars he would not comment, but said: ''Post the revelations about the violation of our borders … there was an indication that we will strengthen our border protection.''

''It's not an unfriendly act to anyone, it's just a country that is keen to ensure that our sovereign border is properly protected,'' he said.

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  • Surely not- I am surprised, at last.

    Peter F
    Date and time
    January 24, 2014, 6:54AM
    • The headline says "Indonesians think Prime Minister Tony Abbott is inflaming tensions for political gain over asylum seekers", but could it be the other way around?

      Could it be that Indonesia is inflaming tensions for political gain? After all, they repeatedly raise the issue of sovereignty, while seeming to encourage illegal entry to Australia by people resident in Indonesia.

      But we must be careful, because Indonesia has, during my lifetime, established a track record of, instead of respecting their sovereignty, invading neighbouring countries and incorporating them into Indonesia.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 8:15AM
    • I guess Indonesia can't believe anyone could be so stupid as to act the way Tony does. But I think they'll need to get used to it. No signs of diplomacy or wisdom here.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 8:22AM
    • well it is about the last muslim country left that hasnt been invaded and decimated by the christian west.
      now with a good catholic at the helm they can continue the crusades. purely co incidentally we now have several thousand yank troops and all their military equipment sitting about 1500kms away from Indonesia in Darwin.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 8:49AM
    • It really will be a great victory for the Greens if it comes to a shooting match between Australia and Indonesia. Their incompetence, ably abetted by Labor, when they had their hands on Border Security and dismantled the whole thing without any popular support may now lead us into a war over the swarm of illegal economic migrants they baited to make the journey to Java.

      If the Indonesians do start shooting so as to protect their profits from people smuggling, then there'll be a lot more dead than the 1000+ already drowned by the Greens and their fellow anarchists-nouveau.

      So, Indonesia has 16 second-hand Sukhois bought from the Russia nomenclatura that may make it all the way to Darwin, or maybe the Ord, but not all the way back. I don't think we have too much to fear other than a bunch of bellicose words. Indonesia has only an average record of military success against natives armed with sticks and stones, or maybe an occasional hunting rifle, but they have never fought a trained and efficient military force. They'd be very foolish to throw the first punch as they'd soon get their nose bloodied.

      But if it does happen, then it would be dismissed by Sarah Hanson-Young's in the same way she dismissed deaths at sea as "accident happen". But, as we all know, the casus- belli was no accident but deliberate Greens policy to destroy the existing system by creating internal and external chaos.

      Jack Richards
      Snowy Mountains
      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:04AM
    • Maybe Tony Abbot actually is saying it as it is and that Australia has every right to deny access to these illegal immigrants. Something Indonesia, from whence these immigrants depart, should listen to. It is their problem as much as it is ours.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:15AM
    • Yes, Indonesia's war mongering statement that their fighter jets can reach Australia must surely embarrass the ABC, Greens and ALP to apologise for their anti-LNP rantings. Though then again, with all these military assets in place Indonesia will be able to declare war on people smugglers.

      enough is enough
      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:19AM
    • smilingjack, the station of US troops in Darwin has nothing to do with the Australia-Indonesia relationship, and constitutes part of the US pivot to Asia strategy. Under this same strategy, the US also has direct bilateral engagement with Indonesia (including the largest arms sale to Indonesia in 2013, since the lifting of the arms embargo in 2005). The US will not deploy troops against Indonesia over the Australia-Indonesia people smuggling issue.

      Miss Rach
      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:34AM
    • Here, Here! I'm with you mate.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 9:42AM
    • Jack Richards, you have obviously never served in the forces nor do you have a loved one in there. I served and I have friends and family in there. I don't want them to be in harm's way because a bunch of redneck morons want to pick a fight they don't have to actually risk their necks in.

      Besides, your assessment of the capabilities of the armed forces of Indonesia has no bearing on reality.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 10:03AM

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