Australia PM: Whaling spat shouldn't be allowed to hurt Japan ties

Families of crew members waving as Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru leaves for the Antarctic Ocean at a port in Shimonoseki on Dec 1.
Families of crew members waving as Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru leaves for the Antarctic Ocean at a port in Shimonoseki on Dec 1. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed disappointment on Friday (Dec 18) at Japan's resumption of whaling in the Southern Ocean, but said the dispute over the hunt should not be allowed to hurt the two countries' special strategic ties.

Japan's whaling fleet set out for the Antarctic this month to resume a hunt for the mammals, ending a year-long hiatus following an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that Japan should stop.

The resumption prompted criticism from Australia as well as Tokyo's key ally, the United States.

"Australia is very disappointed that Japan has resumed whaling in the Southern Ocean this year," Turnbull told a news conference in Tokyo near the start of a visit that will culminate with talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"We recognise that is a point of difference of opinion but we will, as good friends should - we should be up-front and frank about our differences of opinion, put them on the table and deal with them, seek to resolve them," Turnbull said.

But Turnbull, who faced domestic opposition pressure to speak out on whaling, said the row should not be allowed "to erode the good will and the rest of the relationship".

Turnbull is on his first visit to Japan since replacing Tony Abbott, who had developed tight ties with Abe, in September.

He faces a balancing act between Australia's largest trading partner and rising power, China, and its oldest regional ally and second-largest trading partner, Japan, with which it has been bolstering strategic relations.

In an interview with Japan's Yomiuri newspaper published on Friday (Dec 18), Turnbull declined to comment on the outcome of competition for a contract to build a new fleet of Australian submarines.

A state-backed Japanese consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries is competing with Germany's Thyssenkrupp and French state-controlled naval contractor DCNS.

"It is a competitive process, we are getting good progress on this from our officials, and we should let that process take its course," the paper quoted Turnbull as saying.