This Week's Menu: politics and whale
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
The international media had a field day as it covered the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual summit held this past week in Japan's historical whaling capital, Shimonoseki. The summit is of great interest to news agencies around the world because it provides an excellent opportunity to feature 'dirty politics' in the works to the detriment of one of the most beautiful creatures on planet earth, whales. Accusations, name calling and bribery scandals are all part of the menu as pro-whaling countries battle against pro-conservationists with little, if anything, to show at the end of the summit. Japan plays a starring role in these proceedings, albeit always as public enemy number one. This year, Japan's act was praised as repugnant, shocking, rebellious and outrageous as it went on to consume the headlines in major newspapers throughout Europe, North America and Australia.
The setting was more than ideal and provided for a truly romantic backdrop. Forty years ago, Shimonoseki used to pride itself as the whaling capital of Japan sending out over 40 hunting boats a year. Today, by the grace of Japan's "scientific" hunting program, only two remain. "Its sad" stated a fish vender quoted by Doug Struck of the Washington Post, "my generation grew up eating whale, but the next generation won't and Japan's culture will be diminished by it". This sentiment was echoed by the city's mayor, Kiyoshi Eijima who appealed to the international community stating, "we just want to have enough whaling here to pass down to the next generation" (Doug Struck, Washington Post, May 23).
How far will Japan go to preserve this "tradition"? The answer, according to the BBC, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Reuters and the Sydney Morning Herald, as far as it takes. This includes the use of bribery and blackmail. In Japan's attempt to secure an ease on the whaling ban that would allow it to kill 50 minke whales a year for commercial purposes in its territorial waters, Alex Kirby of the BBC spread rumors that accused Japan of buying the votes of smaller countries with foreign aid (May 20). This was a rehashing of the same old story that has surfaced annually. Although, Japanese representatives were not as up front about their "bribery" as they have been in the past (see Media Review #7), news sources such as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Associated Press named Mongolia and several Caribbean countries as the collaborators.
After the motion failed to pass, the plot thickened. According to the BBC a normally automatic quota system allowing indigenous tribes of the US and Russia to hunt for "subsistence" was challenged in a rebellion led by Japan. A headline featuring this challenge in the Sydney Morning Herald read "Japan's whale of a tantrum: if we can't have any non-one can" (Shane Green, May 24). The result being that the Inuit, the Makah and Chukotka tribes are now banned from hunting their 180 grey and bowhead whales annually.
Japan's representative to the IWC, Masayuki Komatsu, likened this outcome to a message that stated that the US needs to "end the hypocrisy" (SMH, May 24). In response, US delegate Rolland Schmitten denounced Japan's actions as culminating in the most "unjust, unkind and unfair vote that was ever taken" (BBC, May 24).
At the end of it all, no one can hunt for commercial gain but all can hunt, as much as they want, for scientific purposes. So Japan will continue hunting up to 600 whales per year, the indigenous in the US and Russia will continue with their traditions and votes will continue to be a form of currency for developing countries. In the meantime, we've lost sight of the whales. Where are they? How are they? How long will they be? In this scandalously entertaining world of marine politics, the answers to these questions are ambiguous at best.
- Weekly Review #7, "'Buying Votes for Whales': Japan's International Image a Disaster", 24 June 2001
- "Whaling Summit ends in deadlock", BBC, 24 May 2002
- Shane Green, "Japan's whale of a tantrum: if we can't have any, no-one can", The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 2002
- Mari Yamaguchi, "US, Russia Request to IWC defeated", The Associated Press, 24 May 2002
- Doug Struck, "Japan rebuffed in fight to ease ban on whaling", The Washington Post, 23 May 2002
- "Japan blocks indigenous whaling", BBC, 23 May 2002
- Shane Green, "Even with Mongolia aboard, Japan founders in early votes on whaling", The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 2002
- Mari Yamaguchi, "Japan opens whaling conference", The Associated Press, 20 May 2002
- Alex Kirby, "Whaling antagonisms resurface", BBC, 20 May 2002
- "Pro-Whalers set-back at Japan meeting", BBC, 20 May 2002