Japanese shocked by poll result:

we don't trust them any more


BOB WURTH in the Sydney Morning Herald
August 3, 2010

MOST Australians no longer see Japan as a reliable friend, according to polling for Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In terms of the Australia-Japan relationship, it is by far the worst of 10 public opinion polls conducted by the Japanese government in Australia over the decades.

Japanese officials are concerned that the whaling controversy, a key cause of the negative opinion of Japan in the poll, could further damage the bilateral relationship between Australia and Japan, which is described by the Japanese as being "at the crossroads".

The results come as Japan's new ambassador to Australia, Shigekazu Sato, is scheduled to take up his post this week.

Japanese Foreign Ministry officials are concerned at the poll, which shows that 60 per cent of Australians no longer see Japan as a reliable friend, and only 20 per cent agree that the Japanese are trustworthy partners in the Pacific.

The polling, by a Japanese private research agency, was conducted in Australia last November. It questioned 800 people in most capital cities.

The result is a complete turnaround from the Foreign Ministry's previous poll, in 2006, when 60 per cent of Australians saw Japan as a reliable friend and only 10 per cent did not. The number of Australians who agreed that Japanese were culturally different and difficult to understand jumped from 58 per cent to almost 80 per cent.

The poll showed that 57 per cent of Australians had low or only moderately positive feelings about Japan, while 40 per cent had strong or very strong positive feelings. Thirty-eight per cent felt relations between Australia and Japan were fair, 38 per cent replied good while 17 per cent said relations were excellent.

Regarding World War II, 88 per cent said either Japan's involvement in the war was not important, or that they nonetheless had a positive feeling of Japan.

The Japanese are looking for answers to such a significant shift in Australian public opinion and are even questioning the accuracy of their polling, such is the size of the shift.

In a speech at the Japan Institute at the Australian National University last month, the outgoing ambassador, Takaaki Kojima, described the strategic partnership between Japan and Australia as being "at the crossroads".

Responding to questions, Mr Kojima made it clear that whaling was not the only problem influencing Australian perceptions of Japan, describing it as "a small but thorny issue".

Australians had also been affected by the fact that Japan was no longer Australia's dominant export market, he said.

Australia and Japan, as "comfortable partners for a long time", should work on what was an excellent bilateral relationship, he said. - SMH. 3 August, 2010.

Sydney Morning Herald graphic.


Ambassador's speech:

Additional reporting...

In response to questions, Mr Kojima made it clear that whaling was not the only problem influencing Australian perceptions of Japan. Australians, he said, also had been affected by the fact that Japan was no longer the dominant export market for Australia:

“The amicable view by which many Australians see the relationship with Japan is, to be frank, waning over the recent years, after we established our solid partnership in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“I must remind you that Japan, which is still (the world’s) second-largest economy, is unduly being underestimated because rising powers have caught the attention of many Australians”, Mr Kojima said.

The departing Japanese ambassador said the rise of China and India meant a historic transition in terms of geopolitics and strategic structure in the region and the world.

 “…although basically our bilateral economic relations have not changed, Japan is not the largest dominant export market for Australia anymore”, he said.

But it is the Japanese whaling controversy which is at the heart of changing Australian perceptions about Japan.

In the Japanese opinion poll, 80% of Australians strongly disagreed or simply disagreed that Japan be allowed sustainable management of whaling. Only minute eight percent agreed with the proposition.

Almost 60% of Australians did not even want to see whaling allowed even if it was only off Japan. Fifty four percent wanted no compromise on whaling with Japan. Sixty percent of those Australians polled late last year wanted more pressure applied to Japan to stop whaling altogether.

Ambassador Kojima described whaling as “a small but thorny issue.” 

“As you are aware, the Australian Government lodged an application in the International Court of Justice on 31st of May, despite having stated on many occasions that they would explore diplomatic solutions first.

“I must say it is regrettable and not constructive that Australia had abandoned its diplomatic efforts and initiated international legal action against Japanese research whaling without having exhausted diplomatic negotiations, which undermined rigorous efforts by all concerned parties to reach consensus at the International Whaling Commission.”

Mr Kojima called on the Australian Government to show “a more robust attitude” towards what he described as the violent activities of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling organisation.

Although the Australian Government had condemned any violent activities of the Sea Shepherd group, the Japanese people had been confused by the actions or statements of the Australian Government, according to Mr Kojima. He said this was especially when the Australian Government two years ago sent the customs ship Oceanic Viking to video whaling activities in southern waters.

Mr Kojima – in a gentle diplomatic chiding of Prime Minister Gillard - questioned why the Oceanic Viking video clip, gathered for possible legal purposes, had been released to the media: “Many of the Japanese viewers might have wondered if the Australian Government supported the activities of the Sea Shepherd.”

Ambassador Kojima said the strategic importance to Australia and Japan could be underestimated and undermined “by something which does not belong to the fundamentals of our relationship.”

The new ambassador Mr Sato is unlikely to get much joy over the whaling issue from Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott on his arrival in Australia soon. Both leaders have condemned Japanese whaling and have ramped up the rhetoric.

As Acting Prime Minister, Julia Gillard on January 9 responded to suggestions of Rudd Government inaction over Japanese whaling by saying: “Before you can go to court, you have got to collect the evidence and we have done that as a Government. The first thing we did is we got the Oceanic Viking out during a whaling season to collect evidence.

“And then knowing that we have the evidence we have been pushing through the International Whaling Commission, through our envoy on whaling and directly with the Japanese government for an end to the killing of whales for so-called scientific purposes.”

The Australian Government lodged an application in the International Court of Justice on May 31 on Japanese whaling.

The departing Japanese Ambassador hinted that it was fine for Australia to focus on new, rising powers, but thought that old partners should not be forgotten.

He warned that Australia and Japan, as “comfortable partners for a long time”, should work on what was an excellent bilateral relationship.

Mr Kojima suggested that it was time that Australia should re-state its strong relationship with Japan.

He said Japan had been Australia’s largest export market over the last four decades. In 2008-2009, Japan accounted for over 20% of Australia’s export and Japan remained Australia’s largest trading surplus producing country by far, as well as being Australia’s third largest investor after the U.S. and the U.K.

“As major allies of the United States in the region respectively, both Japan and Australia should reconfirm that one is geo-politically indispensable to the other. We should not take our relationship for granted and we have to nurture the relationship for future generations”, he said.  

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs opinion poll in Australia can be viewed online at:


Read the full speech of outgoing ambassador Kojima at the Japan Institute in Canberra on July 8:








Images of Japan