Japan's vote buying

Page - January 9, 2009
The government of Japan has long used overseas development aid money, particularly fisheries aid, as part of its drive to gain control of the International Whaling Commission.

Greenpeace activist dressed as Japanese Prime Minister discusses vote buying outside the "Normalization" meeting for the IWC, organised by the Japanese government.

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.

These 22 countries have together received 56.4 billion yen (about US $470 million) since fiscal year 2004.

While it cannot be proved beyond doubt that the Japanese government has used its aid money to get votes in support of its position in the IWC, there is a strong link between the votes for Japan and the aid money some of the members in the IWC received.

This is backed up both by comparing expenditures to votes cast, and by statements from those involved

Furthermore, the Japanese government's policy on whaling cannot be viewed in isolation, but as part of a larger framework involving a perceived right to ensure unlimited access to global marine resources, in particular fisheries.

This explains the government's willingness to spend so much money and diplomatic capital on what would otherwise be a dying industry.

It also makes confronting Japan's whaling policies all the more urgent.  Fisheries stocks around the world are headed towards collapse and the Fisheries Agency of Japan is partly to blame for this failure of resource management.  

See our briefing, "Financial Grants and Votes for Whaling" for a breakdown of aid and voting record by country.

Public statements from Japanese officials:

"Because anti-whaling countries' attitudes are stubborn, it is judged that it is more advantageous for future negotiations to dig up supporting votes by increasing member countries than by trying to split opposing votes."  

-- Hiroaki Kameya, Japan's Vice Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, reported by Kyodo News, 2 June 1999

"It is necessary to couple effectively the ODA [Overseas Development Aid] and the promotion of the IWC membership. At present, IWC has 40 member states and only 34 were present at the IWC meeting."

-- Hiroaki Kameya, reported in Minato Shinbun, 24 June, 1999

In July 2001, a senior officer at the Fisheries Agency of Japan, Maseyuku Komatsu, admitted in an interview with ABC TV in Australia, that Japan uses aid as 'a major tool' gain support for the resumption of commercial whaling.   

"[Japan has to use the] tools of diplomatic communications and promises of overseas development aid to influence members of the International Whaling Commission".

-- Masayuki Komatsu, then senior officer at the Fisheries Agency of Japan, reported in the UK Guardian, 19 July 2001

(See also this ABC PM Radio transcript from 18 July 2001.)

Public admissions from bought nations:

While most officials now publicly deny any link between aid and their IWC votes, some have been forthcoming:

"Partly, yes, quite frankly I make no bones about it.  

So long as the whales are not an endangered species, I don't see any reason why if we are able to support the Japanese, and the quid pro quo is that they are going to give us some assistance, I am not going to be a hypocrite; that is part of why we do so."

-- Prime Mister Lester Bird to the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), 16 July 2001

"The Japanese pay the government's subscriptions. They support the delegations to the meetings in terms of meeting airfares and per diem."

-- Former Solomon Islands IWC Commissioner, Albert Wata reported on ABC TV, 18 July 2005

In Dominica the Minister of Fisheries, Atherton Martin, resigned when his country voted against a whale sanctuary proposal, even though the Cabinet had agreed to abstain. Later, he told reporters that successive Governments have failed to answer requests for information as to who pay's Dominica's fees at the IWC.

"I don't think the international legal community has come up with a term yet to describe this blatant, purchasing of small country governments by Japan.  I mean, that has to go down in legal history as being at the high end of public sector extortion."

-- Former Dominica Minister of Fisheries, Atherton Martin, reported on ABC TV, 18 July 2005

In Grenada, the government charged Michael Baptiste, a former fisheries minister and IWC Commissioner, with three counts of fraud - alleging that he pocketed money sent to Grenada to pay its IWC expenses.  In a letter dated 19 April 2002, the Ministry of Finance said:

"Upon review of our accounts, it has been observed that the contributions from the Government of Japan to the Government of Grenada for the International whaling Commission were not received and as such was not reflected in the said accounts for the years 1998 and 1999.

Moreover, the Japanese have confirmed that it made contributions to the Government of Grenada for the specified periods."

-- Grenada, Ministry of Finance letter, 19 April 2002

"Japan gives assistance to Grenada to help develop their fishing, their fisheries industry, fishing industry. So that would be one of the reasons that we would vote that way, and I'm sure if we were getting assistance from - that kind of assistance from other - from any other source, we would probably vote that way too.

But it's simple: you vote based on your common interests."

== Former Fisheries Minister and IWC commissioner, reported on ABC TV, 18 July 2005

The harm from vote buying:

It's difficult to judge harshly when developing countries in desperate need of capital accept an aid for votes arrangement.  But Japan's vote buying programme is subverting the international decision making process.  It is making whaling about money, not science or good policy.  

Japan's majority at the 2006 IWC meeting was a fragile one. However, the Fisheries Agency of Japan is working hard to ensure it is solid in 2007. Unless they are stopped we will see a takeover of the IWC by one of its members and a return to commercial whaling.