How long can Japan ignore mounting international pressure to stop whaling?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe participates in a media conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after their bilateral meeting at Kirribilli House in Sydney, Australia, Jan 14, 2017. Source: Reuters/Chris Pavlich

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe participates in a media conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after their bilateral meeting at Kirribilli House in Sydney, Australia, Jan 14, 2017. Source: Reuters/Chris Pavlich

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a high-profile business trip to Southeast Asian countries and Australia to strengthen trade, security, and other regional cooperation.

But while he held talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney, ocean activists say there is something amiss in the meeting as whale hunting in the Southern Ocean was not included in the agenda.

Whaling in the Antarctic has strained diplomatic ties between Australia and Japan. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s whaling program is unlawful and therefore it must cease once and for all. The Federal Court of Australia also told Japan to stop its massive whaling in the region.

Environmentalists stage a rally against Japan’s whaling in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 19, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Environmentalists stage a rally against Japan’s whaling in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 19, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Despite the rulings, however, Japan ignored them and practically turned deaf ears to global condemnation.

For one thing, whaling is uniquely Japanese, a tradition that dates back since time immemorial – a cultural tradition that only Japanese can understand.

Chris Burgess wrote in The Asia-Pacific Journal an analogy comparing between Japan and whales.

He said to deny Japan from whaling is tantamount to denying Japan’s existence, an insult to its national pride and identity.

Speaking of Japanese-ness, whaling is not an isolated case that Japan has blatantly misunderstood.

Take for instance the demand for apologies for its wartime past. Japan withheld apologies and if it did, the form and content are rather ambiguous.

Japanese prime ministers have acknowledged the pains and sorrows wars have inflicted to hundreds or thousands of victims, but the nation’s officials continue to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to pay respect to war criminals.

SEE ALSO: Japan, S. Korea ‘comfort women’ feud flares amid Pyongyang missile fears

The comfort women’s issue is another thing.

Survivors have demanded apologies and compensation, but Japan strongly denied forcing women into sex slavery — besides hasn’t Germany or America done it too?

Japan has been condemned by its Asian neighbours for glossing over wartime crimes yet it continues to rewrite schools history textbooks extolling its military past. Japan claims innocence to fingers pointed at him as if Japan is simply maligned with impunity.

Simply put, Japan and whales are inseparable. Whale is a delicacy bringing back nostalgia of home and childhood, as Rupert Wingfield-Hayes wrote in BBC News, Tokyo .

(File) A chunk of lean meat of a whale caught in the Antarctic is placed on a cutting board before being sliced up for a sashimi dish at whale meat restaurant Magonotei in Tokyo Thursday, June 17, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

To the Japanese, ethics and morality on meat-eating are practically relative and arbitrary the same way Australians slaughter kangaroo for its meat or how British cook adorable rabbits for a hearty meal, or how Americans make a burger out of a holy cow.

For the Japanese, meat means whale. Could there be a deep chasm between eastern and western thought in regard to being a carnivore?

What Japan might have overlooked is the scale and magnitude of its whale hunting. Japan hunts for 333 minke whales each year traversing and trespassing international waters and marine sanctuaries.

SEE ALSO: Obama urged to pressure Japan to end whaling

Following the release of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove (2009), which showed the brutal whale slaughter turning waters into blood red, Taiji has become ground zero for local and international activism. Taiji is a town located in Higashimuro District, Wakayama Prefecture.

The notorious whale hunt in Taiji turning water into blood red. (Pic: Supplied)

The notorious whale hunt in Taiji turning water into blood red. (Pic: Supplied)

The film brought global awareness on how fishermen round up some 1,000 dolphins a year to sell to marine parks or kill for meat.

In response to it, Megumi Sasaki produced a documentary film, A Whale of a Tale, in an attempt to shed light on the juxtaposition of contrast between Japanese and non-Japanese thoughts in regard to whale.

Her film, however, did not get as much attention as The Cove.

Japan did not sail to international waters to hunt for whales, not until 1934, eventually ending up to Antarctica. The nation’s confidence was boosted with its advancing technology including the introduction of steam ships and grenade-tipped harpoon guns. Further, whales helped keep Japanese citizens fed both during and after World War II.

Just like its display of military might in the heydays of territorial expansion, the Japanese whaling fleet commands strength and fearless dominion over international waters.

Confrontation at Sea

The Sea Shepherd has been in the media spotlight, unfazed with the Japanese fleet.

The marine conservation group has launched an annual campaign to confront and send the Japanese fleet back home minus the whales.

Dramatic confrontations like adrenaline-packed action movie have taken place in high seas. The head-on clashes, however, have been said to be illegal posing risk and danger at sea.

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

The Sea Shepherd has been charged in a U.S. court for its action despite its noble cause. The U.S. arm of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has agreed to pay AU$3.332 million (US$2.25 million) to Japanese whalers for breaching a court injunction.

But just like the Japanese, who can stop the Sea Shepherd?

This year, the group dispatched two vessels to mutually bully and harass the Japanese fleet.  Sea Shepherd Global vessels, the Ocean Warrior and the MV Steve Irwin, left Australia’s Southern Operations Base the first weekend of December carrying 51 crew members from eight countries.

Their goal is to intercept the Japanese fleet, which departed from Japan in late November, and prevent them from killing their self-allocated quota of 333 minke whales. This year’s campaign is dubbed as Operation Nemesis.

What else can be done?

Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare suggested it is critical to maintain diplomatic pressure on Japan.

He said external pressure can only be successful if enough decision-makers in Japan understand the risks to Japan’s wider interests by continued whaling and start to question the wisdom of that decision.

He also noted that the main option for governments is to make strong diplomatic protests to Japan as 33 countries have already done so, including Australia, the U.S., Mexico, South Africa and all 28 EU member states, led by New Zealand.

The Japanese government needs to understand the changes that have taken place in the course of human history. This is the era where global awareness on the state of the planet has become more urgent than ever.

Part of the difficulty to stop Japanese whaling is rooted in its bureaucratic system. Japan’s whaling is government-run, a large bureaucracy with research budgets, annual plans, promotions and pensions.

If the ministry’s office in charge of whaling is downsized, it discredits the bureaucrats and politicians. For now, downsizing or demolishing the whaling section is not possible. As BBC noted:

“If the number of staff in a bureaucrat’s office decreases while they are in charge, they feel tremendous shame… which means most of the bureaucrats will fight to keep the whaling section in their ministry at all costs. And that is true with the politicians as well. If the issue is closely related to their constituency, they will promise to bring back commercial whaling. It is a way of keeping their seats.”

More activism

Activism has to continue to put pressure on Japan sending a message that time has changed.

Remember what the small neighbour South Korea did. Victims of comfort women protested every Wednesday without ceasing since the 2005 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The move was aimed at forcing the Japanese government to make public and face-to-face apology, as well as to offer individual compensation for its wartime sex crimes.

As a constant reminder, the now aged women in their 80s or 90s, supported by various civic and academic groups, put up bronze statues in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and in major cities worldwide.

The statues depict young girls who were forced to serve as comfort women for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The sight has embarrassed embassy officials. Recently, these grandmothers have stroke a breakthrough.

SEE ALSO: Japan: South Korea’s WWII ‘comfort women’ to receive $90k each

The Japanese government finally caved in to their demands for formal apology and compensation. However, there is a string-attached to the compensation package. Japan asked the South Korean government to remove the statues they have erected in front of the embassies and elsewhere.

A big whale statue might not be needed to put up in front of every Japanese embassy around the globe, but a sustained pressure can send the message across: it is sad to say goodbye to whaling, but time has changed.

It is time to set the whales free.

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Can Australia stop Japanese whaling?

An International law expert from the National University of Australia said Australia cannot stop the Japanese from whaling in the Southern Ocean and its relentless monitoring activities have no legal ground.

Donald Rothwell told the ABC  that Australia’s surveillance may compromise the country’s claim to sovereignty over the Antarctic.

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Speaking to Lucy Carter, Rothwell asked:

 Well the key issue that really needs to be asked is what is Australia’s capacity from a legal perspective to undertake any form of surveillance or monitoring and ultimately law enforcement against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean?

From the international law perspective, it’s really not in doubt that Australia has no capacity under international law to seek to go and enforce the provisions of the whaling convention against the Japanese whalers.

Japan, for one, does not recognize Australia’s sovereignty beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone and will not bow to any pressure from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to impose a prolonged and “unnecessary” whaling moratorium.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with other previous Japanese governments, made this point clear long time ago. The Ministry pointed out that Japan “strongly supports the protection of endangered species” but it also needs to defend its research activities which prove that “whales are not endangered.” Japan maintains its position as responsible and that that it uses a comprehensive approach to whaling and sustainable use of marine resources.

The Ministry argued that from the 1980’s, whale species were abundant again following IWC’s measures to protect marine species in the 1960s and 1970s. During those times, several whale species were over-harvested and effective measures to protect the endangered species were urgently called for. Japan said IWC “did an outstanding job on this subject in the mid-1970′s to protect blue whales and other endangered species, and Japan highly appreciates its effort.”

This year, Japan’s Minister for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Yoshimasa Hayashi,  informed the IWC that the Japanese fleet would be operating anywhere between waters south of Africa, and south-east of New Zealand.  He added that he had issued “special permits” to send the fleet to take up to 935 Antarctic minkes,  50 fin whales, and 50 humpbacks.

Yushin Maru and the Kyo Maru No.1 transfer whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Southern Ocean/ Dec 21, 2005

Yushin Maru and the Kyo Maru No.1 transfer whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Southern Ocean/ Dec 21, 2005

Norway, Iceland aid Japanese whale imports

In defiance to the IWC, Norway and Iceland are helping Japan to import tonnes of whale meat this year.

Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) announced a statement it has obtained new documents showing Norway is playing a key role in Iceland’s massive exports of whale to Japan.

Iceland is shipping the bulk of whale meat and blubber to Japan’s Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd via Norway. Kyodo is implicated in the controversial whaling within Australia’s Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha announced in December last year that it would begin imports of Norwegian whale meat in 2014. The company said the imports will be sold “in order to help subsidize future Japanese scientific whaling efforts.”

Norway’s Environment Agency granted Reine-based Lofothval two permits to send whale products to Japan. One shipment of 5,000 kg is identified as whale meat only from Lofothval, while a second shipment is identified as a re-export of 5,000 kg of Icelandic minke whale meat and blubber, AWI claims.

Another Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading AS,  also sought government’s permission to ship up to 34,381 kg of minke whale products to the Toshi International Company in Japan. This would be the second shipment from Myklebust to Toshi since 2013, AWI said. Statistics shows that 14.1 metric tons of whale meat were imported from Iceland into Norway in February 2013.

AWI said anti-whaling countries are enraged with the latest Japanese whale imports that will soon spark protests before the International Court of Justice which is expected to issue a ruling this year on a case filed by Australia calling for Japan to stop whaling.

Taiji vows to uphold whaling tradition

The iconic whales at the entrance of Taiji (Photo: Japan Focus.org)

The iconic whales at the entrance of Taiji (Photo: Japan Focus.org)

Taiji, a small town in southeastern Japan, notorious for its tradition of marine mammal slaughter, has forged community alliance to support the long-held tradition of whaling. This township stubbornly insists that “whales have no national borders, they live in deep seas, and  migrate freely across and through the waters of national jurisdiction, hence different people have different views about the whales.”

The general perception of whale in Taiji is that whale is part of the marine food resources, and whaling is no different from hunting and farming.

Japan, like Norway, Denmark, Russia, and Iceland treats whale meat as food, and where the consumption of marine food resources exceed the consumption of land animal meat.

It is believed that Japan and Iceland have the longest life expectancy — possibly attributed to people living a lifestyle of a balanced diet coming from the sea.

In its Declaration on Traditional Whaling (2006), summit attendees denounced the “double standard” given by conservationists to criticize whaling as a cruel act.

Among the many points of the Declaration,

It is a double standard by giving a name to a particular whale” (read – dolphin!) and treating the issue on the individual animal basis while promoting culling of over-populated wildlife (kangaroo, deer, and camel) by treating the cull issue on a species basis for the sake of preservation of species and not focusing on its aspect of cruelty.

Australia’s relentless surveillance

Sea Shepherd Australia’s (SSA) Operation Relentless is out in the Southern Ocean to disturb the Japanese whalers. SSA reported last week it located the three Japanese vessels and took footage of one ship carrying three slaughtered minke whales.

The Steve Irwin exchanges water bombs with a Japanese vessel.

The Steve Irwin exchanges water canons fires with a Japanese vessel.

The Japanese Yushin Maru No.3 also pursued The Bob Barker, but it stopped the chase when The Bob Barker crossed Australia’s EEZ, 200 miles of Macquarie Island. The harpoon ship stopped one mile outside the zone, the SSA Captain Peter Hammarstedt reported.

The Steve Irwin and The Sam Simon have been patrolling the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in pursuit of the Nisshin Maru. SSA said the Japanese vessels have been running for more than a week with little likelihood of being able to stop to poach whales.

SSA Chairman Bob Brown, for the first time, was in high spirits and satisfied with the support of the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt. Brown said Hunt has been contacting the Japanese authorities over the impending invasion of the Australian Whale Sanctuary, which includes the EEZ, by the harpoon ship.

“Once again Sea Shepherd has seen the Japanese whaling fleet’s tactics thwarted. But we are mindful that the fleet is publicly committed to killing another 931 Minke Whales as well as 50 Fin Whales and 50 Humpbacks,”

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent