South Korea is intensifying its campaign to raise questions about the flying of the Rising Sun flag at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Seoul is seeking to promote its claim to the international community that the Japanese flag is a symbol of war crimes on par with the Nazi swastika, as well as make it a diplomatic card in the two nations’ bilateral relationship over issues such as Japan’s tightened control over exports to South Korea.
On Oct. 22, a bipartisan group of South Korean lawmakers and civic groups launched a committee aiming at restricting the Rising Sun flag at the Tokyo Olympics. Before that, the National Assembly of the country adopted a resolution on Sept. 30 calling for a ban on the use of the flag, with 196 of the 199 members present voting in favor, and 3 abstaining.
The resolution unilaterally deemed that the Rising Sun flag is akin to the swastika. It also called for the International Olympic Committee to prohibit bringing the flag into stadiums and using it there, claiming the flag is a symbol of Japan’s “imperialism and militarism.”
ROK’s ‘hostage strategy’
The South Korean government announced that it had asked the IOC on Sept. 11 to ban the use of the flag. The Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, which supervises sports organizations in the country, has also made a similar request to the international organization, demonstrating the unity among the government, the National Assembly and the private sector.
On Oct. 2, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha indicated the intention to continue promoting actions on this issue at the National Assembly, saying that the use of the Rising Sun flag at the Olympic Games, which are supposed to be a festival of peace, is not permissible.
South Korea’s strategy behind these moves is to hold the Tokyo Olympics as a de facto hostage, demanding diplomatic concessions such as the withdrawal of strict controls on exports to South Korea.
The IOC has not clarified its stance, saying that if issues arise during the Tokyo Games, it will discuss them individually. An IOC official told the Yomiuri Shimbun that the organization hopes the current situation will calm down and it will watch the matter carefully.
In South Korea, extreme criticism of the Rising Sun flag has emerged relatively recently.
In 2008, a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel hoisted the flag — it is also used as the flag of the MSDF vessels — at an international fleet review in South Korea. But this did not cause major problems.
One of the turning points was the AFC Asian Cup in 2011. A South Korean soccer player imitated a monkey after the first goal in a match with Japan, causing criticism against him in his country for showing disrespect to the Japanese.
The player said on Twitter that he saw the Rising Sun flag in the stands. After that, South Koreans came through social media to think of the flag as a symbol of Japan’s colonial rule.
The Japanese government is not ready to accept a ban on having the Rising Sun flag at the Olympic Games. The flag has been widely established in Japan since ancient times and is rooted in Japanese culture, used for such purposes as celebrating an abundant catch of fish or the birth of a baby.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the flag is “not a symbol of political assertiveness or militarism.” Japan intends to send this message to the international community.
The flag has become an easy-to-use “anti-Japanese card” for South Korea, unlike boycotts of Japanese products, which affect the Korean economy.
“It’s possible South Korea will continue to use the flag as a pretext to shake things up,” a Japanese government official said.Speech