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Japan cancels warship visit over row over wartime flag

Oct 06,2018
Tokyo said it will not participate in an international naval event in Jeju Island next week, according to government sources Friday, after rebuffing Seoul’s call for its warship to hoist its national flag rather than Japan’s controversial rising sun flag, viewed as a symbol of its past imperialism.

The International Fleet Review kicks off Wednesday, with vessels from 14 countries taking part in the once-in-a-decade maritime event that runs for five days.

But Tokyo was said to have notified Seoul that it no longer plans to send a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force warship to the Jeju event Friday.

“We confirmed Japan’s position that it will cancel sending a warship to the fleet review,” said a Korean government official. “However, the two sides are in the process of discussing how to make an official announcement.”

A South Korean Navy official said, “Japan was adamant that it cannot accept not hoisting the rising sun flag,” adding, “We are in the process of trying to reduce the diplomatic fallout.”

The South Korean Navy has called for participating nations to raise their national flags and the South Korean flag, Taegeukgi, after it became apparent that Japan planned to enter its warship into the event hoisting the rising sun flag.

This flag was used by Japan’s Imperial Japanese Army during colonial rule and World War II and remains to many as a symbol of the country’s wartime aggression. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force adopted the rising sun flag since its launch in 1954.

Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Monday at the National Assembly, “Japan should carefully consider what effect the rising sun flag evokes in the Korean people,” asking the country to refrain from hoisting the flag at the maritime event.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in a press conference in Thursday said on the flag controversy, “The Foreign Ministry has plenty of times conveyed to the Japanese side that it should take into consideration the sentiments the Korean public have toward the rising sun flag, along with our historical experience.”

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in a press conference last week that its vessels will not refrain from raising the rising sun flag. He said the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force are required by domestic law to hoist the flag, and it is also in compliance with international maritime law.

North Korea weighed in on the issue through its government propaganda website Uriminzokkiri Friday, stating that the South should ban the controversial Japanese rising sun flag “in accordance to public sentiment.”

Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported Friday that the Japanese government decided not to send its Defense Forces warship to Jeju for the international fleet event after determining that there could be “no compromise” in the two countries’ positions.

However, Japan was reported to still be sending a delegation to the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, taking place during the fleet review.

Tokyo-based broadcaster NHK likewise reported that the Japanese government, in response to the Korean government’s request not to hoist the rising sun flag, citing public sentiment, conveyed to the Korean side its position to “delay the deployment” of its warship.

BY SARAH KIM, SEO SUNG-WOOK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]