JAPAN'S WHALING POLICY

A public-relations disaster

by Hugh Cortazzi

LONDON — Politicians and officials are sometimes their countries’ worst enemies. Some politicians and officials behave ineptly and tactlessly in ways that damage the national interests of their country.

We all need to remember the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The third paragraph of the declaration, adopted July 4, 1776, affirmed that “all men are created equal . . . (and have) certain unalienable Rights, (that) among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The U.S. Constitution reaffirmed these principles and asserted the principle of justice for all.

Unfortunately, some actions of the present U.S. administration — such as holding combatants captured in Iraq and Afghanistan without trial, and in legal limbo, at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba — suggest that there are American politicians and officials who have forgotten these basic principles and who do not care how much damage the maintenance of this prison does to America’s prestige and standing in the world.

Japanese politicians and officials are often just as insensitive to their country’s national interests. I will refrain from pursuing the question of whether the prime minister and other government officials should visit Yasukuni Shrine, relevant though this is, because it has been reiterated so many times recently.

Instead, let me take up what may seem to be a matter of lesser importance, but one that has the capacity to damage Japan’s national interests more widely than those directly involved seem to realize: commercial whaling.

World opinion has viewed Japanese behavior on this vexing question as generally insensitive and counterproductive. The behavior could damage Japan’s prestige and reputation.

I do not want to argue about the rights and wrongs of commercial whaling. I accept that a case for limited resumption of commercial whaling can be argued, although I would need more persuasive arguments than Japanese delegates have so far been able to produce.

The issue needs to be considered against all the best scientific data and in the light of world opinion, insofar as this can be objectively measured, and of the fact that even in Japan the demand for whale meat has been declining and seems likely to continue to decline.

An objective discussion seems unattainable while the Japanese government continues to heavily subsidize the Japanese whale fleet.

Why does the Fisheries Agency continue a policy for which there does not seem to be any commercial justification? Is it for historical reasons, or does it stem from lobby groups in the Diet and funds being hived off to politicians?

Whatever the reason, and whatever the arguments for the resumption of commercial whaling, Japanese tactics in the International Whaling Commission have, at best, come across as insensitive and have certainly increased opposition in Western countries to a resumption of commercial whaling.

Intemperate statements by Japanese delegates, which sound contemptuous of their opponents who stand accused of waxing sentimental over the world’s largest mammal, are unhelpful. Reports that Japanese delegates at commission meetings have tried to “buy” the votes of countries have certainly damaged Japan’s reputation.

Some states with no history of commercial whaling apparently have been induced with offers of development aid to join the commission on Japan’s side. Some are mini-states with tiny populations such as Kiribati, a former tiny British colony in the Pacific; the Marshall Islands, also in the Pacific; and St. Kitts, an island state in the West Indies, where the IWC met in June.

Japanese delegates are said to have offered “help” to such countries in exchange for a vote in support of commercial whaling. Development aid should never be linked to politics in this way.

I hope that Japanese aid agencies will decline to accept such requests from the Fisheries Agency, which has taken on the role of representing Japan before the IWC. I also hope that Japanese diplomats will do what they can to regain control of Japanese representation at IWC meetings; do much more to prevent the Fisheries Agency, through its crass and tactless behavior, from undermining any case Japan may have for the resumption of commercial whaling; and recognize that the agency is only succeeding in damaging Japan’s reputation and image.

The only recent anti-Japanese demonstration that I have seen in London was over whaling. It does no good for Japan to condemn such demonstrations as unrepresentative and based on sentimentality. The demonstrations are supported by the green lobby, which is growing everywhere and must be taken seriously even if its proposals sometimes seem to go “over the top.”

The issue of whaling is not a new one. It does reflect outdated protectionist traditions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Throughout trade negotiations designed to promote foreign trade and Japan’s overall national interest, the ministry has often seemed intent on sabotaging Japanese efforts to find solutions by sticking obstinately to a narrow-minded view aimed at protecting the interests of the ministry’s clients. The ministry has made concessions only when they have appeared unavoidable to prevent a breakdown, or when great political pressure has been applied.

My experience over the years with Japanese bureaucrats has been that they are clever and hardworking but that many of them suffer from myopia and an inability to see the bigger picture of Japanese national interests as a whole. Such people may be sincere, but they are the enemies of Japan’s national interests.