Japan quits naval drills over demands to remove flag

Tokyo: Japan on Monday withdrew from an international fleet review this week over demands to remove its “rising sun” flag ensign, regarded by many Koreans as a symbol of Japanese militarism and colonial rule.

The kyokujitsuki flag, used by the Japanese Imperial Navy in campaigns around Asia and the Pacific before and during World War II, features a red disc and 16 rays extending outwards and was adopted by the maritime Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in 1954, reports the Guardian.

South Korea, the host nation, had asked all 14 countries sending vessels to the five-day event, which begins on Thursday at a naval base on the island of Jeju, to ensure they display only their national flags and the flag of South Korea.

South Korea had conveyed its stance that “the Japanese side should fully consider the rising sun flag’s emotional connotation to our people”, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said.

But Japan, whose SDF were permitted to fly the flag during similar reviews in 1998 and 2008, said it had no choice but to withdraw.

“When it comes to the ensign, domestic laws and regulations stipulate that it must be hoisted at the stern,” Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said.

“Regrettably, we have reached the decision that we have no choice but to cancel our participation.”

Katsutoshi Kawano, the SDF Chief of Staff, said: “Members (of the SDF) take pride in the ensign, and there is no way we will go there without hoisting the flag.”

North Korea joined the South in demanding the flag be banned, the Guardian said.