Decision will bring tectonic shift in whaling politics

Decision will bring tectonic shift in whaling politics

Deputy Foreign Minister Koji Tsuruoka wound up Japan's defence of its Antarctic whaling in the International Court of Justice by reminding Australia of its nightmare.

"The experience of these last three weeks has been gratifying for Japan," Mr Tsuruoka said.

The outcome of a decision at the Hague on Japan's whaling program will shift the politics around the practice.

The outcome of a decision at the Hague on Japan's whaling program will shift the politics around the practice.Credit:AFP

"Thanks to this case, Japan has been able to tell the whole world the truth about its scientific program, and we can thank Australia for this."


Mr Tsuruoka was reminding Australia just how audacious its bid to end the hunt is – and the cost of failure.

No matter that it might have killed more than 10,000 whales in the name of science, this has always been Japan's bedrock belief: its whaling is within the rules of the International Whaling Commission.

The International Court of Justice proceedings that finished on Tuesday night have given this conservation sore point the best of possible hearings.

The written cases of each side traverse the mountains and valleys of this issue in awesome detail.

Australians should be satisfied that the oral arguments its lawyers offered were considered and thorough. It was clear that Australia's Professor James Crawford, in particular, at times held the 16 judges' attention in the palm of his hand.

But Japan's response was no less accomplished. And after all of the papers and speeches, the case boils down to one question: is Japan's Antarctic whaling allowed under the IWC's scientific permit clause?

Professor Crawford said the court's duty was to recognise that Japan did not "own" the whales it caught, and the global whaling convention was not a bilateral treaty between Japan and the rest of the world.

Japan had rejected choices within the convention such as lodging an objection to the global moratorium, he said. "What I suggest it cannot do is to invent new forms of opting out of the convention by legal sophistry after the event," he said.

For Japan's part, Mr Tsuruoka repeated a core principle of international law: "What you have agreed you are bound to observe. What you have not agreed, however, does not bind you.

"Japan observed the moratorium," Mr Tsuruoka said. "But Japan believes the convention does not bind Japan from conducting scientific research whaling, because it is in accordance with the convention."

Whatever the outcome, the judgment due around year's end will mean a tectonic shift in whaling politics.

A successful Japan would be strongly emboldened, and other countries could claim rights to go "scientific whaling".

An Australian win should end Antarctic whaling – at least for now. Rather than a nightmare, it would be a conservationists' dream come true.

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