A prominent Japanese business and political adviser is warning Australia that a simmering dispute over whaling threatens to undermine long-standing free trade negotiations between the two countries. Hiroshi Takaku was made an Honorary Member of the Order of Australia for promoting trade and diplomatic ties between the Asia-Pacific partners.
Hiroshi Takaku, a respected political and business consultant, is worried that discord between Australia and Japan over whaling could affect relations between the two trading partners during ongoing talks over a free trade agreement.
The Australian government is vehemently opposed to the annual hunt that Japan insists is undertaken for scientific purposes. And there are other considerations, including cultural heritage and national identity.
Critics, including Australia, believe the killing of up to one thousand minke and fin whales is a front for the sale and consumption of whale meat, which is banned under international regulations.
In Canberra, the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has threatened to take international legal action against Japan over whaling.
Mr. Takaku says disagreements over the whaling issue could damage bilateral ties. "We have to solve this whaling issue and try to prevent this bilateral relationship becoming worse. It's not only a whaling issue, but also it's a symbolic one. So if you cannot solve one issue like whaling, how can we solve the other issues?
Mr Takaku is well placed to comment on threats to Japan's relationship with Australia. In 2005, he received one of Australia's top civilian awards when he became an honorary member of the Order of Australia for his work promoting business and political ties between the two countries.
The issue of whaling has become increasingly sensitive, especially during the southern hemisphere summer when the Japanese fleet operates in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean.
Earlier this month the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said one of its vessels, a futuristic speedboat called the Ady Gil, was rammed and sliced in half by a Japanese ship in Antarctica.
A spokesman for the Japanese accused the radical conservationists of using the speedboat to attack the whaling fleet.
Australia closed its last remaining whaling station just over 30 years ago and began an intensive diplomatic campaign against the hunting of these giant marine mammals.