Angry Rift over Whaling Splits New Zealand and Japan

By Andrew Darby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - A sharp diplomatic dispute has broken out between Japan and New Zealand over the Asian economic giant's whaling program in the Antarctic.

The hostilities over the long-argued program are a sign of increasing deadlock in the International Whaling Commission (IWC). They have also resulted in New Zealand siding strongly with Greenpeace, just as its direct action against whaling has infuriated Japan.


New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
New Zealand's freshly-elected Labour Prime Minister, Helen Clark, opened the dispute last week when she gave public backing to a Greenpeace petition for a global whale sanctuary.

In a statement, Clark criticised Japan's scientific whaling program, under which it permits its whalers to take 440 minke whales annually in the Southern Ocean, at a time of a global moratorium on commercial whaling.

"This suggests that New Zealand and like-minded countries should take up the issue of what can occur under the rubric of scientific research," Clark said.

On Tuesday, Clark, reiterated her support for Greenpeace group and her concern over Japan's "scientific" whaling programme, which she called "commercial whaling in disguise." New Zealand's main concern is the sharp decline in whale numbers, Clark said.


Deb McIntyre of Australia and David DeJong of the Netherlands attach their inflatable to the harpooned minke at the stern ramp of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin-maru. Japanese crew cut the inflatable free. January 12, 2000. (Two photos courtesy Greenpeace)
The Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise arrived in Fremantle, Australia Tuesday, after more than a month of what the group says is "non-violent direct action to disrupt Japanís illegal whaling programme."

The New Zealand prime minister described as "extraordinary" a suggestion by a Japanese vice minister that Tokyo's financial aid could be used to boost support for Japan in the IWC. "This sort of approach is deplorable," she said. "New Zealand would be most concerned if its effects were felt in the South Pacific."

Apparently stung by Clark's attack, a "gravely concerned" Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tokuichiro Tamazawa, replied on behalf of his government. Tamazawa questioned Clark's judgement and warned that she could lose credibility for her country in the international community.


Greenpeace activists placed themselves in the frigid Antarctic water to block the Nisshin-maru. The ship did not change course or slow down. No one was injured. January 12, 2000
"I doubt the prudence of a prime minister of a country who publicly expresses support to Greenpeace International, a...body known to be forcing its tenets on others by means of violent actions," Tamazawa said.

Tamazawa may have been referring to an incident last month when the Greenpeace protest ship Arctic Sunrise and Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru were involved in a collision at sea off Antarctica. Each claims the other was at fault in the collision, in which no one was injured.

Tamazawa's letter was addressed to Peter Hodgson, New Zealand's Minister for Fisheries, who called the criticism of Greenpeace as a violent organisation most unfortunate. "To my knowledge Greenpeace has never been accused of violence in New Zealand, yet was itself the target of state sponsored 1985. One person died," Hodgson said, referring to the French government's sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in the harbour at Auckland, New Zealand, an incident in which a Portuguese photographer lost his life.

Tamazawa denied without hesitation the allegation that Japan is advancing check book diplomacy. "It is the intention of my government to promote co-operation with the countries - developing and advanced alike - that intend to ensure conservation of marine fishery resources and sustainable development of fisheries."

Prime Minister Clark bolstered her attack with a fresh statement this week, saying New Zealand remains concerned about the serious environmental implications of a decline in whale numbers and will strongly press for a global whale sanctuary.

The diplomatic face off is intensifying in advance of this year's IWC meeting in Australia in June.

(Published in cooperation with The Antarctican.)