The Yomiuri Shimbun The Maritime Self-Defense Force has decided not to participate in an international fleet review that will be held Thursday at Jeju Island, off the southern coast of South Korea. While the MSDF had intended to dispatch a destroyer to the ceremony, the South Korean side demanded that the MSDF ensign (see below) not be flown, which is required by Japanese law.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya briefed reporters on the decision Friday. According to Iwaya, South Korea notified participating countries at the end of August that it had decided to apply a blanket rule stipulating that each country should raise both its own national flag and South Korea’s flag on their vessel’s mast. On Wednesday, South Korea requested that in addition flags not be raised on the bow and the stern.
Raising the ensign on MSDF vessels is required by the Self-Defense Forces Law, among others. The Japanese side responded that it would be possible to hoist the two national flags of Japan as well as that of South Korea on the mast.
However, the South Korean side would not accept the MSDF raising its own ensign, despite the Japanese side insisting that it is “an established international practice.”
During similar events held in South Korea in 1998 and 2008, MSDF vessels took part with their ensigns raised. According to the Defense Ministry, there is no precedent from past international events such as fleet reviews and training in which raising the MSDF ensign has been disputed. In his response to the South Korean decision, Iwaya said, “I do not fully understand some parts of it.”
In recent years, criticism has been growing in South Korea that the MSDF ensign — the rising sun flag known as kyokujitsuki in Japanese — symbolizes Japan’s militarism. Fifteen countries, including Japan, were scheduled to join the fleet review. The South Korean Navy issued a statement Friday saying, “We regret that Japan’s vessel will not be able to participate.”
■Maritime Self-Defense Force ensign
A flag that must be hoisted together with the national flag on vessels operated by the Self-Defense Forces, under the Self-Defense Forces Law. When the ordinance to enforce the law was enacted in 1954, the kyokujitsuki design — lines radiating in all directions from a rising sun, which was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy — was adopted. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea defines ensigns as “external marks,” which differentiate military vessels from those of civilian vessels.