The Japanese government said Thursday that the country's so-called "research whaling" in the Antarctic Ocean is legal, countering the view that it has been conducted for commercial purposes in violation of international law.
"It is scientific research conducted legally," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, a day after hearings opened at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the whaling program between the governments of Japan and Australia.
Canberra has long urged Tokyo to stop the killing of the mammals.
"We have confidence in our argument," the top government spokesman also said.
The hearings will last until July 16, and the court, a U.N. organization, is expected to deliver a ruling within this year at the earliest on whether Japan will be able to continue the program.
Japan says the whaling is necessary to gain scientific views on how to sustainably use cetacean resources and is based on Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It also says selling the meat of the whales at market is also in line with the rules.
Australia says the program is a cover for commercial whaling in breach of obligations under the convention. Commercial whaling has been suspended since a moratorium came into effect in 1986.