I could spend the rest of this post putting forward the arguments of both sides and trying to debate their merits and flaws, but given that this issue has existed since 1992 there is little worth in re-hashing at length what is already well-known. Japan, with concerns about its food security and right to secure its own meat protein supplies, wishes to resume commercial whaling but on a sustainable basis. Australia (and other anti-whaling nations) does not see the point of hunting whales when other food sources are available, and object to Japan targeting a species whose numbers aren’t readily quantifiable and doing so using methods it believes are “inhumane”. Whether it is pure commercialism, ethnocentrism, or strategic concerns that are driving the debate, clearly the governments of both sides don’t want to aggravate the situation and have been fairly restrained in their responses. Not so Sea Shepherd – it has declared that its only interest is to save the whales at whatever cost, be it in lives or property. Attacking the whaling fleet directly is probably not the best way to convince Japan that its interests lie elsewhere though, and begets nothing but resentment.
Meanwhile Richard Marles, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has been attending the 8th Japan-Australia Conference in Tokyo over the weekend, and made a speech to mark the occasion. It was, admittedly, a fairly bland affair, merely running down a list of bilateral success stories, avoiding any mention of China, and emphasising the importance of economic ties. What would have been more welcome would be the announcement of an initiative by the current Australian government to improve bilateral ties, rather than a recital of what the government hopes to achieve. Stating that the government plans to invest in language education does not make it so, and given past experience in language education in Australia there is little anticipation that things are about to improve. For their part, Japan may be forgiven for being a bit bemused by Australia’s sudden declaration of its linguistic aspirations, for Australia’s presence is thin on the ground in Japan. If pressed, the average Japanese citizen might be able to point to one or two Australian agricultural imports, but Australian products are not readily identifiable and Japanese consumers have a wide variety of imports from which to choose.
Still, there may be some sense in the Coalition’s plan to increase Australian participation in universities across the Asian region (Link – firewalled). Sending 10,000 Australian students a year to study regional languages in their ‘native’ environment may be the only way to expose Australian society as a whole to the potential that lies to the north. Ultimately there is great worth in encouraging Australian students to take up studies in Asian universities, as they will absorb both linguistic, cultural, and scholastic abilities beyond those they can find in Australia (well, I certainly did). It may be that Australians will eventually prioritise entry into Asian universities rather than those further afield, although it may take more than a decade before any discernable shift in attitude towards Asia and its education systems can be measured. As it hasn’t been tried before, it’s at least worth the effort as an experiment in increasing cultural literacy,