Photo/IllutrationCrew members measure a minke whale caught during research whaling. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Japanese government’s decision to bolt from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a misguided move made through a questionable process.

Japan announced on Dec. 26 that it will leave the IWC and resume commercial whaling in July for the first time in about 30 years. Japan will hunt whales only in areas within its territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

The IWC’s supposed mission is to ensure an orderly development of the whaling industry while conserving and managing the world's whale population.

Anti-whaling nations’ recalcitrant opposition to any form of whaling irrespective of the populations of different species is, to be sure, a deviation from the spirit of the international treaty on whaling.

But Japan has traditionally been committed to pursuing solutions to disputes among countries through constructive talks based on the principles of international cooperation and the rule of law.

The move to withdraw from an international treaty simply because its argument has been rejected by other members is incompatible with this long-established diplomatic creed.

The decision could have unwanted repercussions on Japan’s diplomacy in the future.

In the global fishing industry, the international management of fishing resources is assuming growing importance. If Japan is seen as a country that offers little international cooperation, it could put it at a disadvantage in future international negotiations on fishing issues.

In line with the decision, Japan will stop hunting whales in the Southern Hemisphere, including the Antarctic Ocean, under what it claims to be a research program in the middle of the term.

Japan’s research whaling has been criticized as effectively being commercial whaling. In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program is not scientific, delivering a big legal blow to Tokyo’s claim.

But Japan has since restarted the program after taking necessary steps, including reducing the number of whales it kills.

If Tokyo had decided to terminate this program and withdraw from Antarctic whaling in response to international criticism, the move could have opened the door to fresh dialogue. But the Fisheries Agency has said that Japan no longer needs to continue the research whaling program as it will resume commercial whaling, offering an explanation focused on Japan’s own agenda.

The manner in which the government has decided to restart commercial whale hunts also raises some questions.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that member countries should “work through the appropriate international organizations” for the conservation, management and study of cetaceans.

The government argues that Japan can comply with this rule by participating in the IWC as an observer. But it is doubtful whether this convenient position will be accepted by the international community.

In the process of making the decision to pull out of the IWC, the government has been avoiding open and public debate on the issue.

Since Japan’s proposal to lift, in a limited manner, the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling, which was rejected in a vote at an IWC meeting in September, the government has only been repeating that it would “consider all options.”

The departure from the IWC was approved by the Cabinet without any further action from the government and announced on the following day.

There has been no in-depth debate on the issue at the Diet. Nor has the decision been made through any formal policymaking process, such as discussions at an advisory council.

Even now, the government seems to have no clear plan for commercial whaling. As for the number of whales to be captured, the government just says it will be calculated according to the formula adopted by the IWC.

The government owes the public a clear and convincing explanation about why it rushed into the decision to leave the IWC despite a wide range of issues and questions that have yet to be addressed.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27