Friday 29 May 2020 | 17:54 | SYDNEY
Friday 29 May 2020 | 17:54 | SYDNEY

Whaling: Best not to spout


Malcolm Cook

8 January 2010 14:11

Earlier today, Sam put up a link to Joseph Nye's sober argument that Washington should not risk damaging the US-Japan alliance by pushing the new (and still on training wheels) Hatoyama Government on the 'second order' Futenma issue, despite Hatoyama's reckless election promise to ditch a deal agreed upon by both governments after torturous negotiations a full three years before his campaign run. 

The Rudd Government faces a similar Tokyo challenge with a third (or fourth or fifth) order issue: the annual Government-supported Japanese whale hunt in the Southern Ocean.

So far, we have had the opposition, both the reliably sensationalist Greens and Greg Hunt of the Liberals, calling on the Government to limit commercial freedoms by banning planes commercially contracted to carry out reconnaissance for the Japanese whale hunt from using Australian airports. (I wonder how would this limitation on commercial freedom be imposed and monitored?)

Alas, the Greens and Liberals, in the person of their shadow environment minister, are playing the populist card and pushing the Government to take more extreme action. This is the same attractive (especially for a media-hungry opposition) but dangerous (especially for a sitting government) card the Labor Party and then opposition leader Kevin Rudd played in the 2007 election.

There is also growing pressure on the Rudd Government to live up to its unwise campaign commitments to take international legal action against Japan over whaling, and comforting advice from legal experts that such an escalation would not damage relations with Japan. One should only take cold comfort from this questionable advice, as it is extremely hard to see how such a step would not damage (damage does not mean kill) a key bilateral relationship, especially as the Hatoyama Government, like its conservative predecessors, is pushing for Australia to take legal action against the vigilante anti-whalers.

I do not think the Japanese Government or public would simply nod and bow if Canberra took Japan to an international court over whaling, especially if it was portrayed in Japan as an example of Canberra expediently bowing to the media-enhanced voices of a few activists of questionable tactics that the Japanese Government sees as the legal problem.

The Japanese media's response so far to Australian reactions to Japanese whaling is not to shine a critical light on Japan's own practices but to seek out superficially similar actions in Australia and to mount culturalist counter-arguments. I wonder how many times in the last three years the Australian embassy has fielded questions about kangaroo culls? Probably many more than questions on first or second-order issues like bilateral security cooperation, climate change, free trade negotiations or the Asia-Pacific community initiative, where Canberra needs Tokyo's support.

So far in 2010, the Rudd Government and the acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard have largely ignored the siren song of populism and calls for limits on commercial freedom. I hope they hold the line.

Photo by Flickr user farflungphotos, used under a Creative Commons license.