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Editorial: Japan faces more loss than gain by withdrawing from IWC

The government has decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Under the government's plan, Japan intends to resume commercial whaling in Japanese territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Still, while the government insists that the withdrawal will bring about gains, there is much more at stake to lose. We consider the decision to be a mistake.

As part of the IWC, Japan has long requested the resumption of commercial whaling, arguing that the recovery of the whale population has been confirmed. But that position was far from that of anti-whaling countries, which consider whales to be creatures that require protection, and negotiations have gone nowhere.

The government argued that if Japan remained in the IWC, there would be no prospects for restarting commercial whaling. Thus, the withdrawal will allow the country to do so. However, leaving the commission does not necessarily mean that all of the problems surrounding the controversial industry have been solved.

The government plans for commercial whaling to resume in July next year. Minke and other whales will be targeted within Japan's EEZ, but those whales are actually subject to management by an international organization under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This requirement, according to the government's interpretation, will be met via Japan continuing to participate in the IWC as an observer state. However, concerns remain that anti-whaling countries will file a complaint with the International Court of Justice, which may find that Japan is in violation of the convention.

Moreover, the domestic demand for whale meat is one-twentieth of the peak amount in the 1960s. Even if commercial whaling is resumed, it cannot be expected to grow into a large industry.

Traditional coastal whaling has been long been conducted in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture in the northeast and Wakayama Prefecture in the west. Baird's beaked whales and pilot whales, which have been caught in such traditional operations, are not covered by the IWC, but come under the protection of UNCLOS. These traditional whaling practices could be considered to violate the convention, just like commercial whaling in the EEZ. This possibility will only grow should they start catching minke whales following Japan's withdrawal from the IWC.

What should really be protected is coastal whaling. It has helped grow and maintain the consumption of whale meat as part of Japanese culinary culture. The withdrawal from the commission has been strongly advocated by national lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, as their electoral districts fall in regions where coastal whaling is active. But with this IWC withdrawal, coastal whaling may now also be endangered.

Meanwhile, Japan needs the cooperation of international community for the protection of marine resources such as bluefin tuna and saury. The withdrawal may weaken Japan's power to persuade the international community when it comes to those issues.

Japan has maintained cooperative diplomacy since the end of World War II. The withdrawal from the IWC could be viewed as a sign of change in this traditional policy, and has the potential to cause unfathomable damage to the country.

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