|Anti-whaling protestors demonstrate outside the Japanese embassy in central London, Britain on January 15, 2010, calling for Japan to end whaling. AFP PHOTO|
SYDNEY, Jan 20, 2010 (AFP) - Australia's disagreement with Japan over its annual whale hunts will not affect a proposed defence pact between the nations, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Wednesday.
Smith said Australia's opposition to Japan's slaughter of whales would not stand in the way of plans to allow the two countries' militaries to share food, fuel and other supplies and services during foreign operations.
"Australia and Japan have a disagreement over whaling but neither Australia or Japan will let it get in the way of what is a comprehensive economic and strategic partnership," Smith told state television.
Australia has threatened to take Japan to an international court over Tokyo's decision to continue whaling, which it does despite a 1986 moratorium on the practice, under a loophole that provides for lethal scientific research.
Smith said Australia and Japan had "robust exchanges" over whaling.
But he added: "We continue to be of the view that we can address that diplomatically, both bilaterally with Japan and through the International Whaling Commission," he said.
"But neither Australia nor Japan will allow that disagreement to get into the way of a long term, long standing, and very important relationship that Australia has in our region with Japan."
Japan, a major trading partner of Australia, is considering presenting a bill to parliament to allow the sharing of services during overseas military missions.
But some lawmakers of the ruling centre-left coalition have urged the government to reconsider the so-called Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement in light of the recent harassment of Japan's whaling fleet by environmental activists.
The whalers are each year pursued by the activists during the southern hemisphere summer hunt, and skirmishes escalated earlier this month when a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel collided with a Japanese security boat.
Both the protesters and the whalers blame each other for the crash which caused the environmentalists' high-tech superboat, the Ady Gil, to sink.