Why Tokyo refuses to give up whaling

By Xu Hailin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/8 21:38:49

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Japan announced the resumption of commercial whaling from July 2019 and said it would withdraw from an international convention that regulates whale hunting. By doing so, the country claims to sustain its traditional industry, but the real intention is political - stability of the rule of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"In its long history, Japan has used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes," said an official statement by Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. "Engagement in whaling has been supporting local communities, and thereby developed the life and culture of using whales."

Whale meat was once popular in Japan, but the demand is plummeting. More than 226,000 tons of whale meat was consumed in 1962, when Japan faced threat of starvation. In comparison, around 75 percent of roughly 1,200 tons of whale meat did not find buyers in 2012, even after repeated attempts to auction it. 

Despite the shrinking market, about 100,000 Japanese are engaged in the industry. 

From November 2017 to February 2018, Wakayama Prefecture, a developed area for whaling, offered whale meat in meals to more than 61,000 students of 316 primary and middle schools. This has been the main way to sustain the market.

By legislatively adding whale meat to school meals to enhance national understanding of Japan's diversity of traditional food culture and dietary habits, Japanese authorities intend to cultivate future consumers for the flagging industry.

However, it is not just an economic issue, but political as well.

Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the industry is developed, Abe keeps propping up whaling as a reward for his hometown electorate, and of course for enterprises that are linked to the industry. In this way, Abe aims to keep his supporters happy and his rule stable. 

Toshihiro Nikai, a senior member of the government who represents a constituency in Wakayama Prefecture that has a whaling industry, applauded the withdrawal as a decisive response.

With official endorsement, Japan has given hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to the whaling industry.

Whalers' votes may not significantly influence the outcome of national elections, but still count for local support without which politicians such as Abe would never have a chance to step into power. And Japanese custom demands that people pay back favors. 

Japan has long been defending the industry as a tradition with a nationalist appeal. Abe seeks to rid Japan of the post-war system imposed by the US and the way to achieve the goal is nationalism, said Li Ruoyu, associate professor at the School of History and Culture, Sichuan University. Although whaling is made to look like a tradition, it is not.

Japan announced that it will conduct commercial whaling within its territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone, which will free it from the limitations imposed by the international convention, allowing more whaling operations that help the country explore maritime resources.

Amid an environment of anti-globalization and unilateralism, Japan was not the first to break an international agreement unilaterally. If Japan were to copy the US, the country would eye its short-term interests and act more unscrupulously in making defiant decisions, like amending the pacifist Constitution, expanding military forces and seeking leadership of the region, Li noted. In doing so, Japan will harm its reputation, but could even gain more than lose in the long-term.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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