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Asia Minute: Flag Flap Divides Japan and South Korea

David Newton
Wikimedia Commons

Navy ships from more than a dozen countries will be taking part in an event next week in South Korea. But there is controversy – not about ships or weapons, but about a flag.

Navy ships from 15 nations are scheduled to gather on South Korea’s Jeju Island next week — for an international fleet review. The event will include vessels from the United States and China — as well as Japan. All participants will be flying their national flags. But in the case of Japan, that’s created a controversy.

Japan’s national flag is a red sun on a white background.

But Japan’s navy — officially known as the “Maritime Self-Defense Force” uses the “Rising Sun” flag with 16 streaks of red stretching out from that sun in the center.

It’s the same flag that the Imperial Japanese Navy used during World War Two, and that connection has sparked protests in some Asian countries — including China and South Korea. And for many South Koreans, the Rising Flag sun is also a symbol of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 through the end of the war.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the government in Seoul has asked Japan by way of “a diplomatic channel” to “consider the public sentiment our people have over the Rising Sun flag.”

Credit Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker / U.S. Navy
U.S. Navy
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Kurama performs maneuvers during training as part of the integrated maritime exercise Koa Kai.

Japan’s government maintains there should be no issues with using that flag.

Earlier this week, Japan’s Defense Minister said the Rising Sun flag will be raised during the fleet review, in his words, “as a matter of course.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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