Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sitting On The Dock Of The Harbour

Funny thing about going to places rather than just reading about them is that by just walking around one can learn that which one should perhaps have known but never came across en la vie virtuelle.

Take for example the fine vessel pictured below -- which one can come across if one takes a walk around Sydney's breathtakingly glitzy Darling Harbour. With its shark teeth bow and camouflage paint job, it fits right in with the French fountain display, the graphic laser and 3-D light shows playing across all the buildings at night, the casino and every ersatz high brow, demeaning and incredibly high-priced tourist trap one can imagine.

The S.S. Sam Simon is the fourth and most recent addition to the Antarctic expedition fleet of the Sea Shepherd Society. That one would see this vessel berthed in Australian harbor should not surprise one. After all it was the Australian government that filed the successful International Court of Justice case against Japan's JARPA II Southern Ocean research whaling program.

What is surprising for a dweller of the northern hemisphere is where the Sam Simon is berthed: the pier of Australia's National Maritime Museum. To the right of the Sam Simon is the stern, for example, of the retired H.M.A.S. Vampire, the last of Australia's big gun warships and a part of the Museum's permanent collection.

It is not as though the relationship between an official Australian national museum and Sea Shepherd is a secret (Link). Nevertheless is is freakish that one buys the ticket to tour an ostensibly piratical vessel at the ticket booth of the museum built to commemorate Australia's water-borne heritage.

Australian sympathies as regards the killing of cetaceans are on display at the Museum. It is hosting not one but two exhibitions on whales, while in its little theater the Museum is running a National Geographic produced documentary on dolphins.

Do not call it overkill.

The other facet of the story I did not know -- and which shows either Sea Shepherd's delicious sense of irony, its appreciation for fine ship engineering, or both -- is that the Sam Simon was built in IHI shipyards for the Japanese government. Completed in 1993, it was christened the Seifu Maru (清風丸) and was -- and this is where the irony gets thick -- a scientific research vessel under the control of the Japan Meteorological Agency. It was decommissioned in 2010, bought in a private sale and reemerged on the oceans as the Sam Simon in 2012.

So in the Sam Simon we have a Japanese scientific research vessel, once used for actual research (in a curiously brief 17 year career) careening round the southern ocean pursuing and impeding the actions of the vessels of Japan's highly subsidized and completely bogus research whaling program.


Looking upon the Sam Simon, embraced and celebrated by the organization tasked with preserving Australia's ocean-going lore, and upon the bottomless punchbowl party of the Australian economy of the last 20 years, turbo-charged as it has been by China's voracious demand for Australia's minerals and hydrocarbons, one senses that whatever Abe Shinzo & Company's plans may be for a union of maritime democracies to resist Chinese expansionism in the Western Pacific, getting Australia on board is going to be a daunting, if not a futile, task.

Which illuminates the scary stupidity of the Abe Cabinet's not telling Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa to just shut his mouth about a restart of a reformed JARPA II and its not telling Minister Amari Akira to stop dribbling the ball and just shoot for the goal in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

Later - And in the more immediate future, Abe-san should not be stupid and offer Soryu-class submarines (Link)  at a discount "because we're friends." Make the offer to Mr. Abbott at full retail price; it's all Chinese money anyway.


Brodie said...

H.M.A.S Vampire surely?

Michael Camilleri said...

I'm an Australia living in Japan and for what it's worth, I'd be wary of reading too much into the way whaling shapes Australia/Japan relations.

Whaling is certainly a problem. People don't like it and it has almost the perfect tabloid formula of beloved animals, disturbing cruelty and comically ridiculous justifications that ensures self-righteous coverage in the Australian press.

But the amazing thing is perhaps how, despite the visibility of the issue, it has little impact on the overall relationship. People seem to be able to separate in their minds the issue of whaling (about which they feel strongly) and their feelings to Japan more generally. As far as I'm aware, whaling has not affected tourist numbers from Australia to Japan (unlike, say, the Senkaku/Dokudo dispute) and doesn't really seem to do that much to pull down people's attitude towards Japan (which is generally viewed as a safe, successful and respected nation).

Contrast that with China. While Australians value the relationship with China and recognise the benefits it has brought, I think there's a deep skepticism towards the country. China seems oblivious to the way in which its actions towards smaller countries (like Vietnam or the Philippines) appear to be those of a bully. And that's the kind of thing that doesn't go down well.

I wouldn't expect Australia to be leaping at the chance to participate in some sort of Greater East Asia Co-Containment Sphere, but having said that, we did sign up pretty quickly to that base for U.S. Marines being plopped in the far north of the country. A decision that was taken under the previous centre-left government and which wasn't, as far as I can tell, because of concern about Indonesia. (The current centre-right government is even more predisposed to support Japan.)

MTC said...

Dear Mr. Camilleri -

All valid points and all accepted.

Nevertheless, what I have seen with my own eyes of Australia (which is admittedly not very much) is incredibly fizzy -- and that incredible fizziness is tied directly to China's being Australia's "good customer."

No Australian government in its right mind would do anything radical enough to upset its good customer, especially if that customer has a reputation for being spiteful and rash.

An entire generation of Australians have grown up without a knowledge of tough times. Another one has built up its entire work history in fat years. These tens of millions have never faced a wake up call and frankly, do not want to be woken up.

The current Chinese government has made it abundantly clear that it has an irrational need to isolate Japan, seemingly willing to conceive of almost anything ("Be magnanimous toward the Indians on the LOC in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh? Why not?") to prevent a Japanese-accomodating resistance to Chinese blandishments.

Australian governments will do the calculus of what is right for Australians based on what is doable, not only what is noble. Abe Shinzo, in direct contact only with minions, ideologues and foreign LDP whisperers, and without much of a mind of his own to rely upon for balance, may be lulled into thinking Australian governments may do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to find out what else comes of recent talks on defense trade between Japan and Australia. Co-production would entail the sharing of sensitive technical information and a longer term logistical relationship. While Australia may not intend to offend China, the latter's paranoia regarding any country shoring up ties with Japan is notorious as you've noted. So if China overreacts to Australian defense cooperation with Japan, I don't think Canberra will simply beg forgiveness. If anything, the government may feel some political pressure to increase ties with Japan so as not to be perceived as being pushed around by the Middle (of the Northern Hemisphere) Kingdom.

Michael Camilleri said...

For what it's worth (and in case it's grist for the mill of future posts! :P), here's more up to date data on Australian perceptions of overseas countries (news report, original data).