Local sources indicate that on Wednesday the Japanese government formally requested Seoul's assistance in its war on whales. Tokyo accuses the mammals of harassing its fishing fleets despite repeated warnings, and has fought a war of attrition against the sea creatures which may have begun as long ago as the 12th century, but which recently it seems to have been losing.
When Seoul signed the mutual defense treaty with Tokyo it was generally believed it was to counter threats from North Korea and China, but the rapidity with which Japan has requested help in defeating the whales suggests that once again it may have had an ulterior motive.
South Korean defense officials say that now the agreement has been signed they have little choice but to commit their forces to helping the Japanese in their war on whales, although to begin with this will mostly be limited to coastal waters and the area around the Korean territory of Dokdo. The move will mark a resumption of hostilities against the creatures, as in the past the people of the polluted industrial city of Ulsan fought against them until a peace treaty was signed in 1982.
A whales' spokesman, Dafydd Iwan, condemned South Korea’s intervention in the conflict, comparing Japan's current aquatic oppression with the oppression Japan inflicted on Koreans after their annexation of the Peninsula.
It is likely to prove an uncomfortable comparison to leaders in Seoul, who are already said to be deeply concerned by Japan's treatment of its prisoners in the war on whales - there are persistent and grotesque stories that contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention some have been eaten or even used for sexual purposes, echoing Japanese atrocities committed against Koreans previously in wartime. Officially, Japan has already admitted it has conducted scientific experiments on captured whales - it is believed in the hope that certain types of whales might be used to help address the problem of low birthrates in the declining nation.
There are also fears that Japan's request for assistance could drag Korea into a deeper conflict; China claims the waters normally inhabited by the whales belong to it and the whales are therefore its citizens, which its military has the peaceful right to defend using force if necessary.
But the Ministry of Culture is hoping that once Korean whaling resumes it will help promote tourism. In an effort at rapprochement since 1982 the Ulsan Whale Festival had invited the mammals to participate in cultural activities including the "Dancing Whales Performance Parade", the "Drinking Whales Food and Drink Festival", the "Whale-Themed Open Air Drama", the "Whale Boat Race" and the "Whale Literary Feast", but attendance by the creatures has been poor and much like the Busan Motor Show organizers have often had to use plastic models during the event. A move back to something bloodier and less intellectual generally fits a cultural trend which has seen the popularity of K-pop explode both domestically and internationally in recent years.
The official peace between whales and Korea has also been a troubled one. Between 1999 and 2003, 800 whales launched suicide attacks against the Korean fishing fleet and their bodies reluctantly had to be eaten. As such, ironically, the whales losses have been higher than they were before the peace treaty came into effect, so much so that a whale meat factory and entire restaurants specializing in whale meat had to be opened to get rid of the evidence.
Now, with open war once again declared, participatory exhibitions in the polluted industrial city of Ulsan such as "Whales Are my Friend" can be dropped and instead children can once again be taught the Madangnori - a traditional cultural activity which demonstrates the art of whale slaughter culminating in the reluctant consumption of the popular whale meat delicacy. The government is already being pressed to expand the war to the whales' allies, the dolphins.
Ministry officials are said to be pleased at the international reaction the whaling plan has provoked, with people in a large number of countries now talking about Korean culture.
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