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Editorial: Quitting the IWC a shortsighted move on the part of Japan

  • December 24, 2018
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:30 a.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo is making final arrangements to leave the International Whaling Commission.


Ruling party heavyweights from an area that is a traditional center for whaling operations were “resolved” to have Japan pull out of the global body.


If Japan does so, it will risk being viewed as a nation that is ready to quit a high-profile international venue simply because its own arguments are not accepted.


The plan to quit can only be labeled as shortsighted. Tokyo should not withdraw from the IWC.


Japan ended commercial whaling operations 30 years ago in line with an IWC decision on a moratorium. It then switched to scientific whaling to study the state of whale stocks, but that practice came under fire as just a guise for commercial whaling.


Japan got no joy at the International Court of Justice, which said the country’s conventional method of scientific whaling could not be deemed as being for scientific purposes.


Japan submitted a proposal, to an IWC meeting in September, to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling on a limited basis, but it was voted down. The prospect of no headway in sight is being cited as the reason for Japan’s move to leave.


Certainly, sustainable use appears possible for certain whale species. It is also true that the attitude of certain anti-whaling states goes against the goal of “development of the whaling industry,” which is part of the stated purpose of the IWC.


There will be ground for weighing the possibility of resuming commercial whaling on a limited basis in Japanese waters, if not in the Antarctic Ocean and other open seas, provided a system is in place for rigorous stock control.


But these are arguments that should be made tenaciously within the IWC.


Japan should try to gain more understanding from the international community about its whaling culture and also review its scientific whaling operations, as the latter has been used in arguments to protest Japanese whaling activities.


Questions abound about how advocates of Japan’s secession are assessing the country’s gains and losses.


The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea says that states must “work through the appropriate international organizations” for the conservation, management and study of whales. Just because Japan is leaving the IWC, it does not mean it will be allowed to resume commercial whaling immediately.


By contrast, international law would disable Japan from doing scientific whaling under the existing framework if it were to quit the IWC.


Withdrawing from scientific whaling in the Antarctic Ocean and elsewhere, for which Japan has been under strong fire, seems to offer one solution. Such a decision, however, should be stated in front of the IWC and before Japan takes the decision to withdraw from the international body.


Annual whale meat consumption in Japan amounts to only several thousand tons, accounting merely for about 0.1 percent of all meat consumption.


Admittedly, consideration may have to be given to existing whaling workers, but the image of future whaling as an “industry” remains anything but certain.


A rush into secession would only fuel more criticism from Australia and other countries in Europe and elsewhere, which have taken a tough stance on Japan’s whaling.


Continued self-assertion is one thing, and abandoning an arena of talks is quite another, which carries a different level of significance. A rethink is required.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23

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