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S. Korean request to avoid ensigns not followed at int'l fleet review skipped by Japan

In this March 2015 file photo, the rising sun flag of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force flies aboard a vessel in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture. (Mainichi/ Kentaro Suzuki)

TOKYO -- Seven countries at an international fleet review off Jeju, South Korea hoisted their unique naval ensigns despite advance notification from Seoul that only the South Korean and their own national flags could be flown, the Japanese government has found.

The discovery came after Japan decided against sending Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels to the review on the grounds that not flying its "rising sun" ensign would violate domestic law. Japan's Self-Defense Forces Act and MSDF flag regulations require vessels to fly the ensign.

The South Korean military itself went against the notification and flew a flag said to have been used by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a naval commander who led the defeat of Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi's troops that invaded Korea in the late 16th century. The move prompted the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to lodge a protest with the South Korean government.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a total of seven countries flew naval ensigns at the event. This did not include the United States and other countries whose national flags and ensigns are the same.

India and Canada both stated that they would abide by the South Korean rule in advance, but hoisted ensigns during the fleet review. They are believed to have obtained permission from South Korea to do so.

There are some observations that the South Korean government's rule against ensigns was specifically targeting Japan, as it was feared that Japan's rising sun flag would stir controversy. The rising sun flag is seen by some in South Korea and some other countries as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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