Japan doesn't play hardball to lose battle with Sea Shepherd

16:00, Feb 13 2014

On July 11, 2012, the Japanese prime minister ordered an undisclosed number of naval vessels belonging to Japan's Self-Defence Force to the Senkaku Islands. They were responding to the "violation" of Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by three naval vessels flying the flag of the People's Republic of China. In short order, the Chinese vessels were met, followed and escorted out of Japan's EEZ by Japanese warships.

The sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands is hotly disputed by at least three jurisdictions: Japan, Taiwan and China. A glance at both the map and the history books, however, makes it clear that the nation with the best claim to the islands (situated in the midst of vast proven oil reserves) is the People's Republic of China.

References to these tiny specks of land (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands) appear in Imperial Chinese documents dating back to the 16th century. It was only in the late 19th century that, like so many other chunks of East Asian real estate, they became the spoils of the Japanese war machine. All that now prevents the islands' long-delayed repatriation to their rightful owner is the United States' determination to retain the strategic co-operation of its Japanese ally.

That the presence of three Chinese naval vessels in its EEZ was sufficient to activate such an aggressive naval response from the Japanese Government is something Kiwis should keep in the back of the minds as they attempt to make sense of Japan's own wilful violation of New Zealand's EEZ.

That violation came in spite of Wellington informing Tokyo that all vessels belonging to the Japanese "scientific whaling" fleet should remain outside the New Zealand EEZ. In other words, Tokyo expressly authorised the Shonan Maru 2 to transform itself into a strong diplomatic message to the New Zealand government.

In transmitting that message, the Shonan Maru 2 has been greatly assisted by a New Zealander. Glenn Inwood is the official spokesman for the NZ Institute for Cetacean Research - a Japanese front organisation established to defend not only the Japanese government's "scientific whaling" programme, but also, at need, to serve as Tokyo's unofficial mouthpiece.


Interviewed by Radio NZ's Morning Report on Monday, Inwood made it very clear that, so long as New Zealand remained content for her harbours to be turned into safe havens for the re-provisioning and repair of the Sea Shepherds' anti-whaling fleet (in this particular case, the Steve Irwin) then the Japanese would continue to exercise their right to pre-emptive self-defence in New Zealand's EEZ.

The same chauvinist pride that prevents Japan from acknowledging that it took the Diaoyu Islands by force (along with Taiwan and Manchuria) from its Chinese neighbours, has hardened its attitude towards the Sea Shepherd organisation. The Japanese fisheries agency's new policy of pre-emptive self-defence reflects the anti-whaling fleet's unprecedented success in protecting the pods of the Southern Ocean during the killing season of 2012/13.

But Japan's aggressive tactics have had only limited success in the present season, and so long as the Sea Shepherd vessels can find safe haven in Australian and New Zealand waters, the fishery agency's ability to meet its "research" targets will continue to be compromised.

If the Australian and New Zealand effort to have Japan's "scientific" programme ruled illegal at the International Court of Justice succeeds, then the possibility for a significant escalation of hostilities in the Southern Ocean will only increase.

In those circumstances the best option for Australian-New Zealand diplomacy might be to offer to facilitate one more year of Japanese cetacean "research" by closing our ports to the Sea Shepherd fleet. In return the Japanese Government would undertake to suspend its "scientific whaling" programme indefinitely.

Japanese pride demands nothing less than a "victory" over its Sea Shepherd foes. If that is not supplied to her, then she will take one anyway. And thanks to the debilitating defence policies of successive New Zealand governments, there's nothing we can do to stop her.

The Dominion Post