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By Alan Boyd

SYDNEY, Australia (July 27, 2001 – Asia Times Online)---Japan's admission that it used overseas aid to kill off plans for a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific has riled environmental groups and strained relations with regional co-sponsors Australia and New Zealand.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) rejected the proposal at its annual meeting in London this week when Pacific nations failed to secure the required two-thirds majority from the 37 voting members. They achieved only 28 votes, after a bloc of Caribbean island states led by Antigua and Barbuda sided with Japan -- reputedly in exchange for pledges of increased Japanese development aid. A similar proposal for a sanctuary in the Atlantic Ocean was also defeated.

New Zealand has openly criticized the aggressive lobbying methods of Tokyo, which is a key trading partner, though Australia has been more reticent. Environmental groups have also been scathing in their response to the IWC defeat. "This wasn't a vote, it was an auction, and Japan was the highest bidder," said Mick McIntyre of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Outspoken Japanese Fisheries Minister Masayuki Komatsu, who famously described minke whales as "cockroaches of the sea" on the eve of the vote, earlier admitted that Tokyo had used foreign aid as a lever to get the support of Caribbean states, which are among the few IWC members without a strong position on the issue.

Six Caribbean countries -- Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent and The Grenadines -- initially rejected suggestions that Japan's lobbying had influenced their voting pattern. However, Antigua's Prime Minister, Lester Bird, broke ranks and acknowledged that aid links had been a factor. He said the six nations had agreed to take a collective position before the meeting opened.

Nevertheless, some environmentalists privately believe that the proposal was dead before it started because of a popular conception that the minke whale, which would have been the key species protected within the sanctuary, is not endangered. It is already protected from either commercial harpooning or scientific research in two sanctuaries in the nearby Indian and Southern Oceans, along with the giant blue whale and several other species.

Tokyo was able to put forward a convincing case that these zones offered an assurance of "sustainable use" under the terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling without the need for any additional ocean havens.

"Of course, whales migrate, but it is easy for Japan, Norway and Iceland to persuade less-informed IWC countries that they are already looking after their welfare sufficiently," said a Greenpeace spokesman.

Pacific nations had argued that the sanctuary would be a logical extension of the Southern Ocean haven around Antarctica, as the two regions covered traditional whale migration paths. They noted that the IWC's own scientific committee had reached a consensus last year that the bluefin, right whale and humpback whale, three of the non-minke species that would benefit from the sanctuary, were among the most endangered global species.

The vote was further complicated by the ambiguous position of Iceland, like Japan a traditional whaling nation, which left the IWC in 1992 after a moratorium was declared on commercial killing. Although it rejoined early this year, Iceland refuses to recognize the moratorium, prompting Pacific nations to question its right to vote on the sanctuary issue. Iceland ultimately abstained, along with Oman, Morocco and the Solomon Islands.

With Japan deriding the plan as "frivolous" and vowing to campaign for a relaxation of the moratorium, Canberra and Wellington will face an uphill struggle keeping the sanctuary plan alive. IWC delegates also turned it down last year.

Namibia and Gabon, two new members with close ties to Japan, will have joined the commission in time for the next annual meeting, boosting Tokyo's sizeable majority. Both countries signed fishing deals with Japan earlier this year.

Norway, Japan and Iceland are expected to build upon the London vote by pushing for the adoption of a Revised Management Scheme that would permit whaling to resume for non-endangered species.

Some environmentalists fear that more pro-whaling nations may opt out of the moratorium if the sanctuary issue is pushed too hard, which would force the collapse of the IWC and invite a killing free-for-all.

Japan's ultimate aim is undoubtedly to galvanize enough outside support to quash all restrictions, as underscored by then-fisheries minister Hiraoki Kameya in 1999, when Tokyo first began to openly use aid as a diplomatic lever. "We would like to utilize overseas development aid as a practical means to promote nations to join the IWC, expanding aid towards non-member countries which support Japan's claim," he said.

While they accept that the Japanese tactics are effective, Australia and New Zealand are not yet ready to use vote-buying tactics or intimidation to bolster their own sagging bases of support. Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill said Canberra would continue to lobby through traditional diplomatic channels, but was "wasn't going to accuse anyone of anything" in relation to underhand methods.

(c) 2001 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved.

For additional reports from the Asia Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Asia Times Online: Oceania.



AUCKLAND, New Zealand (July 26, 2001 – New Zealand Herald/PINA Nius Online)---Japan has told Australia and New Zealand to give up on their attempts to set up a South Pacific whaling sanctuary.

The New Zealand Herald reported that Japan’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission said any further "frivolous" actions to resurrect the proposal could put the commission's existence in jeopardy.

Following the defeat of the proposal in London, Japan’s Minoru Morimoto said New Zealand and Australia should face the fact that the sanctuary proposal was dead, the newspaper said.

"Any attempt to bring their sanctuary proposal to the table again will not be taken with the same humor whaling nations have given it in the past," he was quoted as saying.

Although member countries supported the proposal 20-13, it did not receive the three-quarters majority required under the commission's rules. The only Pacific Islands country on the commission, Solomon Islands, abstained.

Mr. Morimoto said New Zealand and Australia had now twice failed with the proposal and should not attempt a third time.

He said the proposal had no scientific basis, was not needed for conservation and contradicted the requirements of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. This was set up to manage whaling on a sustainable basis, he said.

The New Zealand Herald quoted him as adding: "A sanctuary would be contrary to the principal of sustainable use of resources that is now the world standard and applied by both New Zealand and Australia in the management of their fisheries resources."

The two countries needed to remember that endangered species of whales were protected by the current moratorium, he said.

Mr. Morimoto said they should now support the Revised Management Scheme -- which would allow the resumption of whaling on abundant stocks -- at subsequent commission meetings.

New Zealand was also criticized by Caribbean nations for suggesting that they had been bribed by Japan to vote against the sanctuary proposal in return for aid, the New Zealand Herald said.

In a statement, the commissioners of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Nevis and Kitts and St. Vincent and The Grenadines said that the accusations were "deeply insulting."

The statement said the Caribbean nations followed the principle of sustainable use of their natural resources, including whales, and proposals that did not incorporate that principle would not receive their support.

It said: "The New Zealand government’s accusations (of bribery) suggest Caribbean nations are not au fait with the issues and need to be told how to vote. This is an extremely patronizing stance and appears quite racist."

Environmental activist groups supporting the sanctuary said Japan’s vote-buying tactics had sunk the proposal.

Mick McIntyre of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said: "This wasn't a vote; it was an auction, and Japan was the highest bidder."

Pio Manoa, Greenpeace whale campaigner from Fiji, said Japan’s vote buying meant South Pacific nations had been denied their right to a whale sanctuary.

"The fact that Japan has bought the votes of many developing countries, some of which are island states, is a slap in the face to the South Pacific and has grave consequences for the future protection of whales," he said.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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