South Korea has stepped up a campaign to prevent Japan’s “rising sun” flag from being displayed during the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, by comparing it with the Nazi swastika.
The move is the latest diplomatic spat between the two Northeast Asian neighbors over their wartime past.
It follows a failed bid in September by South Korea’s sports ministry to have the International Olympic Committee to ban the flag.
Many Koreans look upon it as a symbol of Japanese aggression and colonial rule which is still used by right-wing activists.
The flag, known as the kyokujitsuki, features a red circle and 16 sunrays. It was used by warlords in feudal times and versions were adopted by the Imperial Japanese army and navy up until the end of World War II.
It is still used by the country’s naval force today and is also featured on many commercial products and is the logo of the Asahi newspaper.
In response to the failed bid, South Korean lawmakers have adopted a resolution calling for an Olympic ban, by saying the flag is an offensive symbol in the same vein as the Nazi swastika.
It’s feared in South Korea that many Japanese spectators will wave it during next year’s games.
“A flag symbolizing war is not suitable for the peaceful Olympic Games,” South Korean legislator, An Min-suk, from the ruling Democratic party, was quoted as saying by local media.
“The rising sun flag is akin to a symbol of the devil to Asians and Koreans, just like how the swastika is a symbol of Nazis which reminds Europeans of invasion and horror,” he reportedly said.
But organizers of the games have rejected the claim, saying the flag is widely used in Japan and would not try to prevent its use.
Japan’s foreign ministry, meanwhile has said it would offer a clear explanation about the flag’s significance later this week.
The ministry’s website currently says it is intertwined with Japanese culture and widely accepted internationally.
The new row follows a trade dispute that erupted last year after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate people subjected to forced labor when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.
Japan says all compensation related to the issue was settled under a postwar peace treaty.
According to the Olympic Charter: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
The IOC has said such violations would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.