South Korea calls on the IOC to ban Japan's use of the "rising sun" flag at the Olympics

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has asked the International Olympic Committee to ban Japan from using the "Rising Sun" flag at next year's Games, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday. Seoul sports, as Asian neighbors embark on an ever more intense feud over the history of commerce.

FILE PHOTO – Football – Japan v-Afghanistan – World Cup Qualifiers 2018 – Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan – 24/3/16 Japanese fans wear the flags of the rising sun before the match against Afghanistan. REUTERS / Toru Hanai

Relations between neighbors are probably at their lowest since the normalization of their ties in 1965, tense by the issue of forced labor in South Korea during the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945.

The South Korean Sports Ministry said it sent a letter to the IOC Wednesday expressing its "disappointment" at the decision of the Tokyo Organizing Committee to allow the flag to appear on Olympic venues and to Call to action to thwart the movement.

According to the ministry, the flag defies the peaceful spirit of the Olympics because it was a symbol of the Japanese imperialist past that reminded Asian countries of "historic wounds and pains", and compared it to the swastika used in Nazi Germany.

The International Olympic Committee confirmed Wednesday that it has received the letter.

"As the IOC has stated since the beginning of this discussion, stadiums must be free from any political protest," said an IOC official.

"When problems occur at Games time, we review them on a case-by-case basis."

There was no immediate reaction from Tokyo. The Japanese Cabinet Secretary-General Yoshihide Suga, however, said the flag was widely used in Japan and that the organizers of the country's Olympic Games did not consider hoisting it as a political act.

The South Korean ministry said the football governing body, FIFA, had already banned the use of the flag. In 2017, the Asian Football Confederation imposed sanctions on Japan after Japanese spectators used the flag during the AFC Champions League.

The flag has often been a source of contention with South Korea. Last year, Japan canceled its plan to participate in an international fleet review in South Korea after Seoul asked Tokyo not to fly the flag on a warship.

This conflict was the latest in a series of ongoing diplomatic and trade talks.

The Supreme Court of South Korea ordered two Japanese companies last year to compensate war workers, which, according to Japan, was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations.

Since then, the conflict has spilled over into trade and security. Japan has imposed restrictions on exports and South Korea has canceled an information sharing pact with Tokyo.

Last month, Seoul convened a senior official from the Japanese embassy to ask for an explanation of the Tokyo plans for the treatment of radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Reportage of Hyonhee Shin; Additional reports by Kiyoshi Takenaka to TOKYO and Karolos Grohmann; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama and Hugh Lawson

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