Japan’s whaling diplomacy: Connections to ODA

Whaling is in the news again, thanks to the annual IWC meeting in Ulsan, South Korea. Some interesting articles have come out of the hype:

  • Washington Post describes Japan’s efforts to rebuild domestic demand for whale meat.
  • BBC covers the situation pretty well.
  • Japan is accused of applying pressure on countries to support its seemingly arbitrary pro-whaling policy. I mean, no one in Japan CARES about eating whale except people who miss seeing it in school lunches, it just seems like the bozos in government who are really interested in making people into it. Curzon thinks it’s a good source of meat. I agree, with some reservations.

    Anyway, people say that Japan’s tactics in the IWC meetings is “sleazy” at best, “illegal” or at least “in violation of the spirit of ODA” at worst. Sure, asking for a secret vote EVERY YEAR might get a little tiring, and the several astroturf organizations created and soulless PR gurus employed to show support for whaling get shriller and more transparent all the time. But what I’m interested in is perhaps the most serious allegation: that Japan uses its ODA to pressure countries to support whaling.

    My original idea for this post was to analyze the data myself, comparing aid that IWC members get from Japan and their voting patterns. Thankfully, however, Wikipedia has done my work for me already:

    Allegations of “vote-buying”

    Each year the IWC meets to discuss arising from the convention. Member countries may propose a resolution for the Commission to adopt. It is usual for Japan to propose a motion to allow it a commercial hunt in the Pacific Ocean. Over the moratorium years the balance of support on this issue has changed from a majority in favour of keeping the ban to a 50-50 split. IWC rules say that such a change could only be brought about with a 75% majority in favour.

    Campaign groups and some governments claim that the Japanese Fisheries Agency has carried out a programme of “vote-buying” – i.e. offering aid to poorer countries in return for them joining the IWC and supporting Japanese positions on whaling.

    Specifically, Japan has given $320m in overseas aid to Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guinea, Morocco, Panama, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis and the Solomon Islands. Each of these countries has also sided with Japan in each IWC vote since 2001. Greenpeace says that the two events are correlated.

    When these allegations were aired at the London IWC meeting in 2001 by New Zealand delegate to the commission, Sandra Lee, the Japanese delegate comprehensively denied the allegations. Masayuki Komatsu said “Japan gives foreign aid to more than 150 nations around the world and that includes strong anti-whaling nations such as Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and others who receive far more aid than the Caribbean nations [..] If Japan was buying votes, you would see 150 nations in the IWC and as a consequence the unnecessary moratorium would have been lifted years ago.”

    Komatsu also said that Caribbean countries naturally supported pro-whaling resolutions as they are whaling countries themselves (mostly of smaller cetaceans) and that the New Zealand commissioner was inventing “fairy stories”.

    In response to this rebuttal, anti-whaling groups point to several statements that apparently conflict with the official Japanese position. In an interview reported in The Observer newspaper in May 2001, Atherton Martin, Dominica’s former Environment and Fisheries Minister said “They [Japan] make it clear, that if you don’t vote for them, they will have to reconsider the aid. They use money crudely to buy influence.” Martin resigned because of the issue. Greenpeace also quotes Tongan parliamentarian Samiu K Vaipulu as saying that Japan had linked whale votes to aid.

    Indeed in a famous interview with Australian ABC television in July 2001, in which he described Minke Whales as “cockroaches of the sea”, Japanese Fisheries Agency official Maseyuku Komatsu said that offering aid was “a major tool” in obtaining backing for a return to commercial whaling. The previous week Lester Bird, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, had said “Quite frankly I make no bones about it…if we are able to support the Japanese, and the quid pro quo is that they are going to give us some assistance, I am not going to be a hypocrite; that is part of why we do so”.

    Japan notes that major anti-whaling nations such as Australia and New Zealand also donate aid to poor countries on the IWC and thus it could easily accuse the anti-whaling lobby of the same tactics.

    But is it against the spirit of the ODA regime? Here is what Japan’s “ODA Charter” has to say:

    (2) Any use of ODA for military purposes or for aggravation of international conflicts should be avoided.

    It looks like Japan reserves the right to use its ODA to pressure other countries if it wants to.

    There is clearly a strong taboo in America against eating intelligent mammals. We love Shamu, go to Sea World, go whale watching, and think it’s brutal for the Japanese to insist on killing an endangered species. I don’t think I need to prove that, but here’s a link anyway.

    Personally, I am for the whaling moratorium. Though whale meat could be a potential food source if it’s well-managed, there needs to be a balance between demand and supply in order to ensure the survival of any species, not just whales. For Japan to push for an end to it simply to satisfy fishing lobbies and politicians with a case of nostalgia is irresponsible in the extreme.

    In the area of fisheries, we as a species are just not at a point where we can trust ourselves to manage our fish populations responsibly. Among some species in danger of depletion due to excess demand (mostly from Japan, the US, and other sushi-eating countries) are southern bluefin tuna and salmon. There are some controls on overfishing but in general the international community is failing when it comes to fishery control.

    5 thoughts on “Japan’s whaling diplomacy: Connections to ODA”

    1. Pingback: Mark in Mexico
    2. All I know is that whale tastes good and the Japanese should keep eating it. Hell, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of them bringing it over and serving it in their first Famima stores

    3. You’re going to regret that statement when the whales start harvesting us.

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