January 20, 2010

Japan-Australia Pact At Risk Over Whaling Disputes

As an ongoing whaling dispute between Japan and Australia heats up, lawmakers of Japan's ruling party are rethinking a possible defense logistics accord between the two nations, the AFP news agency reported. 

The lawmakers' concerns follow harassment early this month by anti-whaling activists of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society of a Japanese whaling fleet on its annual hunt for hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters.

Australia opposes the hunts, and has threatened international legal action against Japan. 

Japan has conducted the hunts, despite a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, based on a loophole that allows "lethal research" whaling.

Japan's government is now considering whether to submit a bill to parliament on a defense agreement with Australia.  The so-called Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement would allow the two nations' militaries to share food, fuel and other supplies and services during overseas operations.

However, when Kazuya Shimba, Japan's vice defense minister, explained the bill to lawmakers, some within Japan's ruling center-left coalition urged the government to proceed "cautiously" with the deal, saying it should be reconsidered given the recent harassment of Japan's whaling fleet.

"According to our vice minister, one of the lawmakers said he wants the government to insist on Japan's current position," in support of whale hunting, said a defense ministry spokeswoman during an interview with the AFP news agency.

Any two nations would see differently on certain issues, and that it was important to "maintain military relations of trust", the vice minister told lawmakers.

Authorities in New Zealand and Australia are investigating the latest clash between the activists and Japanese whalers, in which the environmentalists' New Zealand-registered high-tech ship Ady Gil sank in Antarctic waters after colliding with the whaling fleet's security ship.

Both the whalers and the activists blame each other for the collision.

Japan has lodged a fervent complaint with the Wellington government over the incident.


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