WikiLeaks Japan: Japanese ‘Spy Flights’ Pressure Whaling Deals

By Yoree Koh

A confidential cable released by WikiLeaks on New Year’s day reveals that Japan’s use of “spy flights” to monitor the positions of anti-whaling ships hobbled the Australian government’s ability to compromise on whaling deals ahead of a crucial international meeting that would determine the long-term future of whale conservation.

Associated Press
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ships and an inflatable boat chase down a Japanese whaling ship, bottom right, in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica on Jan. 1.

Japanese whaling vessels apparently used planes that took off at Australian airports to track the movements of anti-whaling boats during last year’s hunting season, a move that strengthened anti-whaling sentiment in Australia. It prompted Australia’s environmentalist Greens party to introduce a bill in January banning activities that would assist whale hunting missions.

The long stalemate between anti-whaling countries and the three that are for it – Japan, Norway and Iceland – were especially contentious between Japan and its Pacific neighbor. Australia filed a suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan for its commercial whaling activities. Japan has long claimed it carries out whaling activities for scientific purposes. The cable dated February 5, 2010 shows Australia’s then environment minister Peter Garrett warned the U.S. ambassador in Canberra that the ruling Labor party felt increasing pressure from the Greens over the Japanese “spy flights.”

The diplomats were attempting to forge a compromise on whaling conservation issues prior to the International Whaling Commission in June. The commission failed to resolve the ongoing dispute: a proposal to suspend a quarter-century moratorium on commercial whaling in exchange for agreement by the pro-whaling nations to reduce annual catch levels.

From a February 5, 2010, confidential cable from the U.S. embassy in Canberra to the U.S. Secretary of State, Department of Commerce and various consulates in Australia discussing Australia’s position on a whaling deal and coordination on environmental research. The following are excerpts of the cable related to Japan:

On whaling:

Garrett told Ambassador Bleich he appreciated the “robust” exchange between the U.S. and Australia on whaling and felt he could speak frankly. In Garrett’s view, the current agreement being negotiated in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its associated small groups would, in the end, be unacceptable to the Australian government as it fell short in several areas. Garrett said the negotiating process had largely ground to a halt, with no “real” proposals on the table. He said legislation pending, in the Australian parliament (introduced by the Green Party on February 4 to examine the role of “spy flights” in Japan’s planning for this year’s whaling season) would strengthen anti-whaling sentiment in Australia, making it difficult for the government to accept the current proposals. Garrett said the February 22 IWC Small Working Group briefings, which will alert the NGO and global community to the state of discussions, will be key for Australia’s policy on the negotiations.

In separate discussions on February 5, GOA officials confirmed significant concerns with the whaling negotiations but stopped short of Garrett’s complete rejection. PM Rudd’s Foreign Policy Advisor Scott Dewar confirmed that there had not yet been any cabinet decision on, whether to continue to work for a deal in the IWC. At the same time, he told Pol-Econ Counselor that the current notional deal (on which there is no agreement in the IWC) is impossible to accept in the current political environment. DFAT’s Paula Watt said that entreaties to Garrett and his DEWHA staff that the deal is a necessary step to reforming the IWC have “bounced off” Garrett and other negotiators. Watt said that the most likely chance for a cabinet meeting is on February 15, and that strong messages before that date may be needed to shore up support for a deal. Watt further indicated that the current assessment is that Japanese FM Okada’s visit will be too close to the February 22 NGO briefings to present any opportunity to get further with the GOJ.


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