|JS Hamagiri, an Asagiri-class destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, with the controversial Rising Sun flag hoisted at its stern, is anchored in the Busan Port, Korea, Monday. Newsis|
By Jung Min-ho
A Japanese warship arrived in Korea, Monday, for a multinational naval drill later this week, bearing a flag that, for many Koreans, symbolizes Japan's past military expansionism and colonization.
JS Hamagiri, an Asagiri-class destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, sailed into Busan Port with the Rising Sun flag hoisted, ahead of the Eastern Endeavor 23 aimed at reinforcing strategic capabilities to prevent and deter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Japan joins the United States, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Korea for the combined training exercise scheduled for Wednesday in international waters near Jeju Island, a day after the opening of a four-day high-level forum of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on the island.
Many Koreans associate the flag with a long list of atrocious war crimes committed by Japan during its 1910-45 colonial rule ― and see it as a sign that Tokyo will never properly and earnestly address its past.
The flag has been one of many sensitive diplomatic issues between the two countries. When the Navy under the previous Moon Jae-in administration requested the Japanese government not to fly the flags during the Jeju International Fleet Review in 2018, it withdrew from the event.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defense Ministry spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu said the ministry would not take issue with the flag this time, noting that hoisting of identifying flags while entering a foreign port was a "common international practice."
Tokyo has maintained that its warships are legally required to raise the Rising Sun flag along with its national flag and, under the international maritime treaty, it is recognized as a mark to show their nationality.
Seven warships and six planes will be mobilized for the planned exercise, which includes testing systems for the dissemination of information about vessels suspected of carrying WMDs.
A Seoul official said the exercise does not target any particular nation. Pyongyang is, however, among the most serious threats given its high WMD proliferation risk.
The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), launched by Washington under former President George W. Bush in 2003, aims to stop the trafficking of WMDs, their delivery systems and related materials. The initiative has since grown to include the endorsement of more than 100 countries.
The PSI holds a high-level political meeting every five years to review and set guidelines. The Jeju forum is the first one to be held in Asia.