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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #7: July 24, 2001

'Buying Votes for Whales': Japan's International Image a Disaster

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

The Koizumi administration may be a hit domestically but it is taking a beating internationally. The Christian Science Monitor called Japan, "The Land of the Clouded Sun," in its July 20th editorial as it depicted President Bush taking solace in Japan's replacing the U.S. as 'Public Enemy Number One'. Beginning with its reneging on Kyoto this past week, Japan has managed to anger generations of East Asians with its infamous 'history textbook', it has further enraged China with an agricultural trade dispute, failed to restore public confidence in the economy and admitted that it uses Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to buy votes from poor countries in order to overturn an international moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986. If that wasn't enough, Japan's Fishery Agency head, Mr. Masayuki Komatsu, called one of the most treasured and protected species, the Minke whale, a "cockroach of the ocean."

Komatsu was quoted by the Australia Broadcast Corporation (ABC) on July 19th as having said that, "he sees nothing wrong with using aid as an inducement to secure backing," and suggested, "it (ODA) was a major weapon in Japan's diplomatic arsenal. Japan does not have military power, unlike the U.S. and Australia, Japan's means are simply diplomatic communication and ODA. So to get appreciation of Japan's position, it is natural that we must resort to these two major tools." A few hours later news wire reports and articles decorated the world with banners claiming, "Japan admits buying favours with aid," (The Times, July 19th), "Bribery on whaling admitted by Japan," (Daily Telegraph, July 19th). Immediately, Japan went into the defensive denying these remarks, however, the truth was already known. New Zealand's PM, Helen Clark (one of the countries proposing a South Pacific whaling sanctuary), confirmed that, "Japan has been under suspicion for some time of effectively buying the support of poorer countries" (Robert Whymant, The Times, July 19th).

Concretely, Japan has been accused of buying the votes of six Caribbean countries (Antigua Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Granada, St. Lucia and the Dominica's) and that of Panama and Morocco in exchange for development assistance in connection with Japan's attempt to oppose the whaling sanctuary proposal and ultimately overturn the 15 year moratorium on whaling. These eight votes could make the difference for Japan as the 41 member International Whaling Commission meets for its annual conference this week in London.

The Times article further documented the decision of the Dominica's Environment Minister, Atherton Martin, to resign last year in protest of Japan's tactics of bribing governments to support its whaling position. Martin was quoted as saying, "they (the Japanese) made it quite clear that if they didn't get Dominica to vote along with them, they would have to reconsider their fisheries aid package to Dominica. They (the Japanese) are very aggressive and I think a lot of our governments (in the Caribbean) cave in."

Realistically speaking, no country gives away money for nothing or as the old saying goes, "nothing is for free." It is well known that most of Japan's official development assistance is given in the form of tied aid, thus, indirectly benefiting its own economy. It has also been common practice for powerful and rich countries to trade arms or money for votes in international forums, However, never before has it been so blatantly admitted that Japan engages in this activity by essentially black-mailing poor countries. Not only is this immoral, but it is explicit coercion. Furthermore, speaking from an environmental perspective, buying votes for the purpose of hunting an, "endangered" specie is an unjustifiable act that completely disrespects the health of the environment and disregards international opinion. Even if the number of Minke whales has reached a "non-endangered" level, as Japan claims, this serves as no comfort when it involves an industry with a legacy of driving whales to the brink of extinction.

Any objective analysis of the state of the Koizumi administration's international public relation's program would have to be rated as a potential disaster. If this continues the "Land of the Clouded Sun", will surely be engulfed by torrential rains.


Currently, Japan kills 500 whales per year for "scientific research." At the same time, Japan is the number one consumer of whale meat globally. According to data from Greenpeace Japan, the annual sale of whale meat in Japan amounts to 4 billion Yen with at least 900 million Yen going to government coffers in the form of tax.


  • Editorial, "Land of the Clouded Sun," Christian Science Monitor, July 20, 2001
  • Robert Whymant, "Japan admits buying favours with aid," The Times, July 19, 2001
  • "Bribery on whaling admitted by Japan," Daily Telegraph, July 19, 2001
  • Teruaki Ueno, "Japan Denies Remarks on Whaling 'Vote-Buying', Associated Press, July 19, 2001.

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