In a speech recorded for broadcast to an audience of 100 million people in China, Prince William has made an appeal to the Chinese people to stop buying illegal wildlife products. “I am absolutely convinced that China can become a global leader in the protection of wildlife,” the Duke of Cambridge remarked, on the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to England.
Prince William’s statement comes after an exciting and unexpected announcement from the Chinese government about far-reaching commitments on the protection of endangered species. In a late September state visit, President Xi joined with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. to make joint announcements on endangered species. China agreed to join the United States to “enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic trade of ivory.” Although many animal protection challenges remain in China, the country is making commendable progress on the issue of wildlife conservation.
Japan, in contrast, has just announced its intention to disregard the March 31, 2014 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision that ruled its longtime Antarctic whaling program illegal. Japan made its intentions known to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in early October, just as it was campaigning for election to a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council. This means that in January 2016 Japan will be a voting member of the U.N.’s most important body, while doing an end run around the decisions of the U.N. organ that upholds the principles of international law under which the entire body operates.
At a time when most developed and developing nations have recognized the need to collaborate to protect the world’s megafauna from exploitive commercial activities such as hunting, poaching, and commercial trade, Japan is charting another course. Japan seems to want to not only cling to its long-standing role as exploiter of animals and natural resources, but to double down on that role as well. The country is sadly too well known for its inhumane slaughter of dolphins as depicted in the documentary The Cove, and for its insatiable desire for ivory.
Japan is still better known for its decades of whaling, which it carries out despite a global moratorium on commercial whaling. Since the moratorium went into effect in 1986, Japan has killed over 20,000 whales for the commercial sale of their meat.
When the ICJ dealt a crippling blow to Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling program last year, we all celebrated, especially those at Humane Society International who were the original thought leaders behind the lawsuit brought in the court by Australia. Initially, Japan was emphatic that it would honor the rule of law, and for the first time in over a century, Japan did not kill whales in the Southern Ocean. But the victory was short-lived as Japan tried to revise its lethal program in an effort to have it comply with the court’s ruling. After its attempt to do so was shot down by an independent review panel set up by the International Whaling Commission, Japan embarked on a more alarming strategy – the one that is unfolding now.
It is bad enough that Japan has announced that it will not submit to ICJ jurisdiction for future disputes involving resources of the sea, thus attempting to insulate itself from any further ICJ challenges to its current and future whaling programs. But it doesn’t stop there. Japan has also stated that it will exempt itself from future rulings by unilaterally limiting the court’s jurisdiction over decisions addressing its exploitation of marine animals.
Japan’s actions are an affront to international cooperation and U.N. standards. Whales and other commercially exploited species can only survive through global cooperation, the rule of law, and a widely shared commitment to solutions. More and more nations are enacting meaningful measures to protect wildlife, and corporations and other institutions are doing so as well. It is sad that Japan has embraced the role of bad actor as the rest of the world is joining forces on strong and positive commitments that will benefit the world’s diminishing terrestrial and marine wildlife.