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NZ Herald

Japan on brink of controlling world whaling

By Ainsley Thomson and the Independent

Japan is poised to seize control of the International Whaling Commission and so hasten the return of commercial whale hunting, which has been officially banned worldwide for the past 20 years.

This has prompted New Zealand, Australia and Britain to launch a diplomatic offensive over the next month to block Japan's move.

For years New Zealand has been at the forefront of the anti-whaling lobby and protesters have used this country as a base to fight running battles in the Southern Ocean with Japanese ships claiming to take whales for research purposes.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter told the Herald the three Governments had sent a letter to other anti-whaling countries urging them to attend the commission's annual meeting in the West Indies in June.

"We are warning our colleagues there is a real danger that Japan could get a majority."

Mr Carter said that on paper Japan had a majority of the 66 member nations in the IWC and was on the cusp of seizing control. To overturn the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling it would require a three-quarters majority, which is unlikely.

But a 51 per cent majority would be a huge victory for Japan and fellow pro-whalers Norway and Iceland.

It would allow Japan to choose the IWC chairman - a position that is vacant - abolish the IWC's conservation committee, promote the trade in whale products and gain support to expand its controversial "scientific" whaling programme.

Holding a majority would also help Japan to make the IWC more pro-whaling by introducing measures such as secret ballots, which would protect countries voting with Japan.

Japan has spent nearly a decade and many millions of dollars building up a voting majority in the IWC, by buying the votes of small member states with substantial foreign aid packages. Last month it pledged more than $1 million to Tuvalu but denied that the funds were a bribe to win support for whaling.

Tokyo signed similar deals last year with two other Pacific nations - Nauru and Kiribati. Landlocked countries with no tradition of whaling, such as Mali and Mongolia, have also been signed up.

Secret ballots would mean Japan's vote-buying could no longer be tracked and would open the way for more countries to join the Japanese in their quest to ultimately have the moratorium overturned.

At the IWC meeting the Australian Government will present new evidence that it says proves there is no justification to kill whales for scientific research, as the research can be done using non-lethal methods.

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research has rejected the claim.

Mr Carter said anti-whaling nations struggled to comprehend Japan's rationale for continuing whaling.

"There is no financial value in it, there is certainly no science in it, so it has to be a twisted nationalism."

News that Japan is on the verge of gaining a majority at the IWC has made headlines in Britain.

An International Fund for Animal Welfare spokesman, Vassili Papstavrou, told the Independent that countries opposed to whaling had done little to stop Japan.

"Japan achieving a majority in the IWC is going to be an environmental disaster, yet the world seems unaware that it is about to happen," he said.

Mr Carter said Japan's tactic of signing up developing countries in return for money had drawbacks.

"When most of your supporters have been bought and paid for it is quite difficult to keep discipline. For example, several delegations went off shopping during critical votes, spending their allowances."

At last year's IWC meeting in South Korea, Japan appeared to have a majority of 33 to 30, but four pro-Japan countries failed to turn up.

Japan's leading representative at the meeting, Akira Nakamae, said at the time: "Our side's supporters are about to reach a majority soon. Some of you are so glad some poor countries could not attend this meeting.

"However, next year they will all participate and the reversal of history, the turning point, is soon to come."

Mr Carter said Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands were examples of countries that supported the moratorium, but did not belong to the IWC, partly because the membership fees were expensive.

"We are encouraging them to think about joining. Unlike other countries, we are not prepared to pay their membership."


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