South Korea demands Olympic officials ban Japan's 'Rising Sun' flag at 2020 games

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South Korea on Wednesday formally asked the International Olympic Committee to ban Japan's "Rising Sun" flag from next year's Tokyo Olympics, comparing it to a Nazi swastika and deeming it an offensive reminder of colonial atrocities.

Japan's official flag is a red circle on a white background. The flag that the South Koreans have objected to shows a red sun with 16 rays extending outwards. The "Rising Sun" flag has been used by Japan for centuries and is still used by the Asian nation's military Self-Defense Forces. The flag was also the symbol used by Japan's Imperial Army and Navy during World War II and is a painful reminder for many South Koreans of Japan's rule in the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

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South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism sent the letter to the IOC to express its "disappointment" over Tokyo's organizing committee's decision to allow the flag, which has been adopted by the far-right in Japan and drawn comparisons to the use of the Confederate flag.

Tokyo 2020 organizers said in a statement earlier that "the flag itself is not considered to be a political statement, so it is not viewed as a prohibited item."

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An Min-suk, South Korea's lead committee member for sports, criticized the decision to allow the flag during a Tuesday news conference, the International Business Times reported.

Japan's military flag, the Rising Sun Flag, flutters on the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force tank landing ship JS Kunisaki anchored in Yokosuka, near Tokyo, in this May 27, 2014, file photo. (AP)

"A flag symbolizing war is not suitable for peaceful Olympic Games," he said. "The Rising Sun flag is akin to a symbol of the devil to Asians and Koreas, just like how the swastika is a symbol of Nazis."

In Wednesday's letter, South Korea's sports ministry said it was disappointed over Tokyo's decision to allow the flag to be displayed at Olympic venues and once more called on the committee to ban it.

The Olympic controversy is just the latest dispute between the U.S. allies.

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Relations between South Korea and Japan have fallen to their lowest level in decades. The dispute over compensation for forced labor during colonial rule has turned into a series of squabbles that has affected trade and security. Some South Koreans are even boycotting Japanese goods and tourism between the two countries has slumped, The Washington Post reported.

South Korea's anger over the use of the flag ramped up in 2011 and has been used to ignite anti-Japan nationalism. Just last week, Japan pulled out of an international fleet review hosted by South Korea because it refused to take down the "Rising Sun" flag from its ships.