A Japanese warship flies the “Rising Sun” flag. (Yonhap)
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) frigate scheduled to take part in multinational training led by Korea later this month appears set to sail into Busan Port flying the “Rising Sun” flag. In contrast to the Moon Jae-in administration, the Yoon Suk-yeol government is promoting greater military cooperation between Korea and Japan and appears to have permitted the use of the flag, which is viewed as a symbol of the Japanese Empire’s war of aggression.
Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu was asked in a regular briefing on Thursday whether the JMSDF warship taking part in the “Eastern Endeavor 23” maritime interdiction exercise that begins on Wednesday would enter Busan Port with the Rising Sun flag hoisted.
“As far as I know, it is customary for naval vessels to fly their country’s national flag and a flag representing their army or military agency when entering a foreign port,” Jeon said. “I believe this is common practice worldwide. At this moment I cannot say whether [the vessel] will be flying the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) naval ensign [the Rising Sun flag], but it is a common international custom.”
Korea has previously asked Japan to refrain from using the Rising Sun flag due to its connotations in Korea as a symbol of war crimes and Japanese imperial aggression, but Japan insists it is nothing but a national symbol akin to the Japanese flag itself.
Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun quoted multiple officials from the Korean and Japanese governments, writing, “The MSDF vessel plans to visit the Busan port while displaying the Kyokujitsuki [Rising Sun flag] around the time of the exercise, and high-ranking MSDF officers will conduct exchanges with officials from the other nations.”
“The planned port call by a vessel hoisting the ensign comes as bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul have quickly improved since the administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol came to power,” the paper added.
“The Yoon administration, which has pushed ahead with efforts to improve ties with Japan, apparently decided that allowing an MSDF vessel to display the ensign was appropriate, given the necessity of working closely on North Korean issues and to move on from a politically tinted sequence of events,” the newspaper added.
The exercise is scheduled to commence on the high seas to the southeastern side of Jeju on May 31. Korea is hosting the training, with the US, Japan and Australia taking part. The JMSDF plans to send the JS Hamagiri, a destroyer.
Two JSDF members hoist the “Rising Sun” flag on a warship. (Yonhap)
Back in October 2018, Japan pushed back strongly when the Moon Jae-in administration asked the JMSDF to refrain from flying the Rising Sun flag on a warship sent to participate in an international naval review in Jeju, and ultimately decided to snub the event. The appearance of the flag during sporting events between Korea and Japan has frequently led to heightened national tensions on both sides.
The Japanese government made the Rising Sun the official flag of the Japanese Army in May 1870. The flag features the red circle “Hinomaru” which represents the sun in the center of a 152.5cm by 134.2cm rectangle, with 16 rays extending from the center to the edges. The Navy’s Rising Sun flag, which was adopted as the naval ensign in 1899, differs from the original in that the Hinomaru is located slightly to the left.
The Japanese government formed the JSDF in 1954, and the Enforcement Decree under the Japan Self-Defense Forces Act stipulated that a Rising Sun flag identical to the former naval ensign would be adopted as the JSDF ensign. According to law, JSDF vessels must fly the JSDF ensign alongside the Japanese national flag, which is why JMSDF warships have no choice but to display the Rising Sun flag.
JMSDF vessels took part in an international naval review hosted by the Korean Navy while flying the Rising Sun flag during the Kim Dae-jung administration in 1998, and again during the Lee Myung-bak government in 2008. “This is the first time a JSDF frigate will attend a training exercise hosted by the Korean Navy since September 2012,” the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
If the Japanese ship arrives at Busan Port with the Rising Sun flag hoisted, it will likely add even greater momentum to military cooperation between the two nations.
“The Japanese and South Korean defense ministers are scheduled to hold talks on the sidelines of an international conference in Singapore in early June,” the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “The ministers are expected to confirm their intention to aim to quickly resolve the fire-control radar incident, which remains a pending problem in the relationship.”
By Kim So-youn, Tokyo correspondent
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