October 08, 2018 13:14
Japan has decided to skip the International Fleet Review on Jeju Island this year amid a spat over the Japanese Navy's continued use of the imperial flag.
Seoul had suggested that Japanese warships refrain from flying the rising-sun flag during the fleet review rather than offend Koreans who have bitter memories of the flag, which is still the official banner of the Japanese Navy.
Japanese Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya called an ad-hoc news conference on Friday and said, "Unfortunately, we have come to a situation where we have no choice but to pass on our participation in the international fleet review." He said that the rising-sun flag has been used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force since the 1950s and added it is "extremely regretful."
Korea asked Japan to fly the modern Japanese flag instead along with Korea's national flag, but Tokyo called the demand "illogical and rude." Fourteen countries are participating in this year's International Fleet Review, and all have been asked to fly their own flag along with Korea's.
Korea has been hosting the review every 10 years since 1998, and Japanese ships have taken part in the first two flying the rising-sun flag. But relations have since soured and social media have given a louder voice to Koreans who do not want to see the flag flying in their ports in peace or wartime.
Only one Japanese warship was scheduled to participate in this year's review. Last month, Iwaya said, "Raising the rising-sun flag is mandatory under our laws."
A military officer here said, "We can't force them not to use the flag since a foreign naval vessel falls under that country's sovereign jurisdiction. It's a festive event and a goodwill exchange, so it's a shame that Japan did not understand our position."
Another military source said, "The controversy is likely to affect military cooperation in the future." Japanese Navy ships could have trouble entering Korean ports in the future if they take part in naval exchanges.
Instead, Japan will send observers of the fleet review.
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