MPs voice outcry as Tokyo 2020 organisers say they have no plans to restrict use of flag that Seoul says has militaristic roots

South Korea is intensifying its campaign to ban the Japanese rising sun flag from being displayed at next years Tokyo Olympics, in the latest diplomatic row linked to the countries bitter wartime history.

In September, South Koreas sports ministry asked the International Olympic Committee [IOC] to ban the flag regarded by many Koreans as a symbol of Japanese militarism and colonial rule.

But having failed to secure a commitment from the IOC, South Korean MPs recently adopted a resolution calling for a ban on the use of the flag at the Olympics, describing it as akin to the Nazi swastika.

In September, South Korean media quoted An Min-suk, an MP in the ruling Democratic party, as saying: A flag symbolising war is not suitable for peaceful Olympic Games.

The rising run 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.

An Min-suk explains a resolution urging a ban on the rising sun flag. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

Tokyo Olympic organisers said they had no plans to restrict public use of the flag during the Games, noting that it was widely used in Japan and claiming it did not have any political connotations.

The kyokujitsuki flag, used by Japanese imperial navy in campaigns around Asia and the Pacific before and during the second world war, features a red disc and 16 rays extending outwards, and was adopted by the maritime self-defence forces in 1954.

Japans foreign ministry said this week it would update its explanation of the flag in response to South Koreas campaign. The ministrys website currently describes it as an integral part of Japanese culture, adding that it is widely accepted in the international community.

The row comes amid a dramatic deterioration in ties between the north-east Asian neighbours.

The dispute began after a South Korean supreme court ruling last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced to work in Japanese mines and factories when the Korean peninsula was a Japanese colony.

Japan insists that all compensation claims were settled by a postwar peace treaty.

The court ruling triggered a trade spat that has since spread to tourism and, now, the Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese athletes have long been identified by their national flag the Hinomaru a red disc on a white background but South Koreans have voiced concern that spectators will display the rising sun at event venues next summer.

This is not the first time that conflicting narratives of the flags historical significance have affected bilateral relations. Last year, Japan pulled out of an international fleet review hosted by South Korea after Seoul insisted that the ensign be removed from its vessels.

Japan withdrew an invitation to South Korea to take part in a similar naval event this month, with Tokyo acknowledging that the countries had yet to create an environment that is sufficient to invite South Korean ships.

Originally flown by feudal warlords, the rising sun symbol was adopted by the Japanese imperial army in 1870 and became the navy ensign in 1889. While it is commonly used by Japanese far-right activists, it is also used on commercial products and is the corporate logo of the liberal Asahi newspaper.

The Olympic Charter states: No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. So far the IOC has said only that it would address potential violations of the charter at next years Games on a case-by-case basis.



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