Tony Abbott reckons the tensions between Australia and Indonesia over his asylum seeker policy are merely a “passing irritant”.

But it’s bigger than that. It’s a dangerous bit of diplomatic brinkmanship that threatens a relationship the government wants, quite rightly, at the heart of its foreign affairs policy.

Abbott believes he can breach the sovereignty of a foreign nation — something the Prime Minister, worryingly, doesn’t seem to comprehend — and still sit down to cosy talks on trade; that Australia can tell Indonesia what a great friend it is to its face while insulting the country behind its back.

As Crikey‘s international affairs commentator Professor Damien Kingsbury put it to us today, you can’t quarantine issues in international diplomacy. This one counts, it stings, and getting business done while this “passing irritant” is in existence may be difficult.

For the sake of a domestic political argument — already run and won — the Prime Minister is becoming an irritant to one of our most important neighbours. The damage may not pass quickly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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