[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Deep fears drive Japanese whaling, author says


(An opinion piece, but one of the shrewdest I've seen. I think when you believe the world owes you its resources, this condition is known as "imperialism." – MJB)

(Sydney Morning Herald)

Deep fears drive Japanese whaling

Trevor Watson
January 13, 2012 - 6:41AM

Japan's claim that it kills whales in the name of science is one of those "we know that they know that we know" exercises that serves no real purpose other than to allow members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to save diplomatic face. Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research is yet to produce a single peer-reviewed scientific paper.

Nor does Japan, a highly developed First World nation, have any need to supplement its supplies of protein with whale meat as it did in the dark days that followed the Second World War. Environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd point out that Japan now holds thousands of tonnes of whale in cold storage.

Indeed, Japan's annual IWC-approved slaughter in the breeding grounds of the Great Southern Ocean is not about whales at all.

Japanese whaling is driven by fear – a fear of hardship and hunger that lurk deep in the national psyche. It is the same fear for the future that drove the people of this small, crowded, resource-poor island chain to seize mineral and energy rich Manchuria in the 1930s and to fight to the death for a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the 1940s.

It is the same fear that today drives Japanese investment in arable land in Africa, mineral production in South America and fishing fleets that ply the distant waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Japan relies for its very survival on its ability to secure access to the world's resources, from New Zealand apples to Middle Eastern oil. Any threat (real or imagined) to the free flow of foreign resources stirs national anxiety.

Whaling has come to symbolise those ancient fears and Japan's struggle against those foreign forces that would threaten its welfare. It is worth noting that Sea Shepherd activists are not only characterised in Japan as "eco-terrorists" but also as "foreign racists".

Buying the support of the smaller and poorer members of the IWC has no doubt cost more than the annual government-subsidised catch is worth. But the money and the damage that whaling does to Japan's global reputation is, from Tokyo's point of view, not relevant.

Whaling in the Great Southern Ocean has become a line in the sand. Japan must demonstrate a single-minded determination to defend its right to freely access the world's riches despite widespread opposition.

Defeat among the ice could prove to be the thin edge of the wedge. The battle could easily move to world's tuna fishing grounds. The Japanese consume about half a million tonnes of the fish each year. International attention could also turn to Japan's annual slaughter of about 20,000 dolphins.

Surrender on the whaling front would be perceived by many in Japan as a loss of control over a destiny so heavily reliant on the produce of an unpredictable and sometimes hostile world. Whales, Australian coal or Caribbean bananas, the fears remain the same.

While it is possible to appreciate Japan's age-old concerns for survival in a historical sense, pandering to it as the IWC has done is not the answer.

For the sake of the global environment, Japan and the Japanese people must be convinced that in the 21st century only responsible membership of the world community can ensure resource security.

Unfortunately, removing a fear that is buried so deeply in the Japanese psyche will not be an easy task. While Sea Shepherd deserves our support, the headline-grabbing activities of environmental warriors that cause diplomatic embarrassment are hardly likely to bring about cultural change.

Lasting cultural change must begin with international understanding of what it is that underpins Japan's actions in the Antarctic followed by positive engagement – government to government, through the IWC and the United Nations, and most importantly at a people-to-people level.

Trevor Watson is a Walkley-award winning journalist and author who spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent at the ABC covering the Asia-Pacific region. He now works as a Sydney-based media consultant.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/deep-fears-drive-japanese-whaling-20120112-1pwzx.html

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