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Of whaling and dollar diplomacy

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Japan has never been a global giant in diplomacy.  Too locked in a national mindset, based on its peculiar culture.  A natural follower of the US, which provides its security shield. 


But when it comes to defending its nationalistic causes like whaling or fishing of blue-fin tuna, Japan plays tough and dirty, using dollar diplomacy to the hilt.

Bribing other countries, weaker than yourself, just to buy their agreement is nothing new.  The term "dollar diplomacy" was originally coined by US President William Taft in the first decade of the 20th century.  He practiced dollar diplomacy with Latin America and East Asia by guaranteeing loans made to national governments.  The ultimate goal of dollar diplomacy was to create stability abroad, thereby promoting American commercial interests.  Most importantly, this was very different from gunboat diplomacy.

More recently, diplomatic rivalries between China and Taiwan have seen a dramatic growth of dollar diplomacy as these economic giants buy diplomatic relations from all sorts of countries.  At last count, the list of countries which officially recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China includes: Belize, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gambia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, São Tomé and Príncipe, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Tuvalu and Vatican City (The Holy See).  You can be assured that all of these countries, except perhaps the Vatican, receive hefty annual cheques from Taipei.

As in all domains, the Japanese learn quickly.  One characteristic of the international system is that there are very many small countries, each of which may not be worth very much.  But in the United Nations system, they each have the right to vote.  And that is worth very much something, and they are willing to sell it to the highest bidder.  So, when it comes to negotiations in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) (blue-fin tuna), the Japanese delegate arrives with a big fat cheque book, and sometimes even other sweeteners.

For more than a decade, Japan has been practicing dollar diplomacy at the IWC.  You only have to speak with developing country delegates to know.  When in 2006, the IWC passed the pro-whaling “St Kitts Declaration”, two-thirds of the countries voting for it had received fisheries aid from Japan.  The 22 countries have received close to $500 million since 2004. 

Right now, with IWC meetings on next week, the Japanese government is back on the block with its dollar diplomacy to break the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling.  And of course, Greenpeace and the international press are hot on the case.

The British Sunday Times reports that Japan is bribing small nations with cash and prostitutes to gain their support in the IWC.  An undercover sting investigation found officials from six countries were willing to consider selling their votes on the IWC!

The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments who admitted that:  “they voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked. They receive cash payments in envelopes at IWC meetings from Japanese officials who pay their travel and hotel bills.  One disclosed that call girls were offered when fisheries ministers and civil servants visited Japan for meetings.”

“The top fisheries official for Guinea said Japan usually gave his minister a “minimum” of $1,000 a day spending money in cash during IWC and other fisheries meetings. … A senior fisheries official for the Marshall Islands said: “We support Japan because of what they give us.”  A Kiribati fisheries official said his country’s vote was determined by the “benefit” it received in aid. He, too, said Japan gave delegates expenses and spending money.  The IWC commissioner for Tanzania said “good girls” were made available at the hotels for ministers and senior fisheries civil servants during all-expenses paid trips to Japan.”

Sure, everyone plays dirty in diplomacy.  But this case is very Japanese in many ways.  Its program of whale research, the guise under which it undertakes whaling, is a sham.  No meaningful objectives and no results.  The government has great difficulty disposing of the whale meat because very few Japanese actually like eating whale now.  Much of it is given away in hospital or school meals. 

It is really astonishing that the government should waste so much diplomatic and political capital over such an issue.

The only people who seem to benefit are the bureaucrats, researchers and whaling industry.  Meanwhile, the poor Japanese citizen sees tax revenues going down the drain, and the nation’s debt going through the roof.  If the very impressive Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan wants to fix the nation’s budget problems, he should start by chopping this whaling scandal as soon as possible.

What is also astonishing is the unique brilliance of Japan’s whaling diplomats – very different from the average Japanese diplomat.  Instead of wasting their time playing games at the IWC, they should be making serious efforts in negotiating free trade agreements with China and Korea, and trying to forge a stronger East Asia Community.



Revealed: Japan’s bribes on whaling.  Sunday Times, 13 June 2010


Japan's Hunt For Whaling Rights: Is Tokyo buying support for its right to catch whales?

By Christian Dippel, 4 March, 2010.  Foreign Policy