SEOUL--South Korea’s navy suggested that the Maritime Self-Defense Force not display the “kyokujitsuki” flag on its vessels during an international fleet review, an indirect request flatly rejected by Japanese officials.

The navy plans to hold the fleet review around Jeju Island in the southernmost part of South Korea from Oct. 10 to 14 to promote exchanges with its counterparts from other countries, including Japan.

Japanese forces used the kyokujitsuki flag before and during World War II, and countries around Asia still regard it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, including on the Korean Peninsula, which was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945.

According to a South Korean official on Sept. 27, the navy issued a notification, dated Aug. 31, to participating countries, saying they are, in principle, allowed to hoist only their national flags and Taegukgi, the national flag of South Korea, host of the fleet review.

“Our navy is making efforts to resolve (South Korean) people’s anxieties over the kyokujitsuki,” the official said.

The kyokujitsuki flag features red rays spreading out from a red circle symbolizing the sun. Japan’s Hinomaru national flag consists of a red sun surrounded by white.

When the MSDF was established in 1954, it adopted the kyokujitsuki as its ensign showing the nationality of its ships.

“The request (from the South Korean navy) lacks common sense,” an official of Japan’s Defense Ministry said. “We will not take part (in the fleet review) if we are required to haul down the (kyokujitsuki). No country would follow such a request.”

Under international laws, ensigns are used to distinguish a country’s warships. The kyokujitsuki plays that role for MSDF vessels, and differentiates them from private-sector vessels.

The South Korean navy official indicated that it could not force the MSDF to lower the kyokujitsuki in the harbor.

“We can’t oblige them under international laws or international customs,” the official said.