South Korea on Wednesday kicked off an international fleet review involving 13 nations, after Japan bowed out in protest at Seoul's demand it remove a controversial Rising Sun naval flag from Tokyo's warship.
The five-day event off the southern island of Jeju had initially included the Japanese navy, whose plan to fly the flag caused fury and a series of anti-Tokyo protests in its former colony.
The emblem has been an ensign for Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces since 1954, but is seen in much of east Asia as a symbol of its military aggression during World War II.
Koreans remain resentful of Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula and the neighbors — both of them U.S. allies — have often locked horns over issues of history and a territorial row over Seoul-controlled islets also claimed by Tokyo.
Tokyo last week withdrew from the review after Seoul's navy asked all participating countries to display only their national flag and the South's on their vessels.
Tokyo dismissed the request, arguing that it was mandatory to fly the Rising Sun flag under Japanese law.
"The event started this morning as scheduled," a spokesman for the South's navy told AFP.
A total of 13 countries including the South, the U.S., Russia and India are set to show off 41 warships — including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier — and more than 20 military planes at this year's event, with the main display on Thursday.
Russia and the U.S. have sent the largest contingents, with three warships each, Moscow's including the Varyag missile cruiser. China has sent delegates but no vessel.
© 2018 AFP