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South Korea: If Japan can hunt whales, so can we

South Korea's bid to resume whaling may be designed more to attract a key voting bloc during an election year than to benefit science. It has been largely condemned by the international community.

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Environmental activists demonstrate with a mock whale, during a protest against the plans of the South Korean government to resume hunting whales for research purpose, in central Seoul on Friday, July 6.

Woohae Cho/Reuters

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South Korea is submerged in controversy after proposing the resumption of whaling for what it says is scientific research. 

The Seoul government must first receive approval from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) before expeditions can begin. But some analysts say the plan announced earlier this week at a conference in Panama has more to do with domestic politics and economics than science.

“It’s 2012 and it’s election season,” says Jasper Kim, CEO of the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group. 

The agricultural sector, which includes fishermen, is an important voting bloc in South Korean politics. The ruling party, which hopes to retain the presidency, could be trying to appeal to fishermen who claim minke whales are eating what would’ve been their catch. 

“From South Korea’s perspective, it’s animal rights versus economic rights. And if South Korea has to choose between the two, 9 out of 10 times it will choose economic rights,” says Mr. Kim.  

It came as a surprise to many observers that South Korea wants to partake in a practice that is an international cause célèbre.  But Kim notes that Seoul feels more confident about asserting its position on the global stage after hosting the 2010 G-20 Summit as well as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Forum earlier this year.   

“I think they have some [international] political sway, now much more than before,” he says.

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