Reputation of Japan sinks with decision to quit whaling body

  • In a move that makes little sense, Tokyo is the latest to land a blow on a multilateral organisation that will allow it to resume commercial hunting in its territorial waters
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 10:15pm

Japan’s contributions to international organisations have given it a reputation for being a staunch upholder of global cooperation and coordination. But the decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in July raises doubts about genuine commitment. The ruling, made by lawmakers without open public discussion, will enable the resumption of commercial hunting while reducing the amount of funding available to the body tasked with whale conservation. It is a misconceived move that harms Tokyo’s standing in the world.

There has been understandable widespread condemnation of the decision. The likely extinction of most species due to commercial whaling led IWC members to impose a moratorium in 1986. Although most stocks have regenerated, in a number of cases to healthy levels, the respite enabled research that has led to an appreciation of the importance of the giant mammals to marine ecosystems and a quasi-permanent ban. Japan’s move rejects the findings and opens the way to again endangering the creatures.

Whales are important contributors to stabilising marine life, regulating and supporting a vast array of organisms. Their recycling of nutrients helps sustain plants that provide half the world’s oxygen and their bodies after death support deep-sea communities with food and shelter. Japan, like Iceland and Norway, perceives matters differently, arguing that whaling is part of its culture and seeking a resumption of commercial hunting. Since 1987, despite objections, most vocally from Australia, New Zealand and France, it has exploited a loophole in IWC rules and been whaling in Antarctic waters on scientific grounds and then selling the meat it claims to have done research on for food.

Even Japan’s own whalers are unhappy with plans to resume hunts

The practice has been seen by critics as commercial whaling in disguise and the International Court of Justice agreed in 2014. But Japan turned its back on the decision, despite the importance of the court to its territorial disputes with China, South Korea and Russia, and resumed hunting with a scaled-back annual catch. With the rejection of its latest effort in September to have the IWC introduce commercial catch quotas, it has shunned the accepted approach of dialogue in favour of quitting the organisation.

Officials contend Japan will no longer hunt for whales in the Antarctic and will instead focus on Japanese territorial waters. With whale meat accounting for just 0.1 per cent of Japanese food consumption and in decline, the decision makes little sense. Showing disregard for multilateral organisations at a time when they are under attack from United States president Donald Trump and other narrow-minded leaders makes it dangerous.