I have been analytically watching the criticism many have hurled at the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for not mentioning the war: Australia’s war on Japanese whaling, that is. He was in the picturesque town of Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum last week.

Christine Milne, Leader of the Greens Party, predictably, blasted Abbott for not bringing up Australia’s position on the Japanese hunting of whales, remarking that the Prime Minister was avoiding tricky subjects. That’s her job: to blast Abbott and stick up for whales. Our PM, on the other hand, stated that Japan knows Australia’s position on Japan’s whaling industry. Yes, they would be aware that the Sea Shepherd is in Antarctica keeping a watchful eye on Japan’s annual whale slaughter. Moreover, with Australia’s ongoing case in The Hague’s International Court of Justice, regarding the illegality of Japanese whaling, there’s a lot about which to be skittish. This is especially so considering Japan is Australia’s second largest trading partner. Oh, that and the all the big businesses Abbott represents who want to see the somewhat dodgy TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) deal with Japan hurried up, signed, sealed and settled, of course. Profits need to be made at any cost and all of that.

Trolling the net revealed numerous news sites showed an overwhelming number of self-styled opinionists were very cheesed off with the PM’s dodging the elephant in the room. Nice to see so many supporters of whale rights came out of the woodwork that day. I wonder how many of them actually bother to donate to organizations devoted to saving animals.

Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten (Australian Labour Party), was more concerned about reminding the world how un-PC Abbott’s negative comments were on his party’s term in office, than proffering a view on the Abbott-Abe interaction or lack of, as the case was. I suppose Shorten should take every advantage while the camera was focused on him.

As many of you would have read my previous article, “The Japanese Whaling Season Begins”, published in The Infinitive, 9th Dec 2013, my blog,, Facebook and Twitter, you would know my stance on whaling. Having lived half of my adult life (and almost all of my work/study existence) in Japan, I see things from a more balanced point of view; at least, I would like to think so. They are all correct. And they are all missing the point.

The Japanese do not have a tradition of debate or the Socratic dialectic, or even the Catholic Church’s medieval practice of playing the devil’s advocate like we in the West do. It’s all too confrontational for their sensibilities. Their conversational method for broaching difficult or controversial subjects is a softer approach, sometimes accompanied with a libation to help the medicine go down.

It involves several rounds of polite exchanges, affirming one another’s attributes and basically a lot of bowing and back scratching. That might not be a bad thing, given that some “feedback” is about to follow. When the uncomfortable topic is eventually brought up, it is often couched in indirect terms. Close associates might even predicate the difficult matter with a respectfully phrased, “to speak frankly, if I may…”

Whether Abbott had the time to “speak frankly”, I cannot say. If that is the case, and after all, our Fearless Leader had to spread himself and his words pretty thinly over the Forum, then the sparsity of his exchange might have been unavoidable.  A conscientious leader, however, could have obliquely hinted at intending to bring up the topic again at a more conducive time. This at least would have satisfied the naysayers. At the same time, while letting the Japanese know we have not forgotten their indiscretions in the Antarctic, there will be a time and a place when this sticky subject will be raised again.

Perhaps we (read = Abbott & Bishop) could take a page out of the Japanese way of diplomatic negotiations. Charging in like a wounded bull at Prime Minister Abe would have been injudicious and irresponsible. On the other hand, Abbott’s approach to simply skip around the edges smacks of insincerity, lack of integrity and downright untrustworthiness.

No, Mr Abbott, it is not a case of skulking around the elephant at the back of the room. Show some guts, stand up to the “baddies” and learn how to cross the cultural divide by respectfully approaching a difficult subject on your opposition’s terms. In fact, we might all learn a few handy techniques which after all are just good manners. 

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