Japan and South Korea remained at odds during bilateral ministerial talks Saturday over Seoul's call on Tokyo not to fly the flag used during World War II at a naval event held earlier this month.
"It is extremely unfortunate that Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force had to cancel its participation due to the unacceptable (request)," Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong Doo at the outset of a meeting in Singapore which was open to the media.
In response, Jeong said it was "regrettable" that Japanese ships could not take part in the international naval review held earlier this month off South Korea's southern Jeju Island.
In August, South Korea told Japan and other countries that during the event, their naval ships should only fly their national flag and that of South Korea.
Japan withdrew because of that request, saying its vessels are required by domestic law to fly the rising sun flag. It also noted that flag has long been recognized under international law as indicating that a vessel is Japanese.
The rising sun flag was used by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy during World War II, and is thus regarded in South Korea and China as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.
In the talks, Iwaya criticized South Korea for letting its ships and those of some other countries fly banners other than their national flags during the naval review, according to a Japanese Defense Ministry official.
Jeong was appointed South Korean defense chief last month, and Iwaya as the Japanese defense minister this month. They held talks for the first time on the sidelines of a major security meeting in Singapore between the defense chiefs of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and of eight regional partners.
In the talks, Iwaya and Jeong agreed to maintain close communication, as the two countries are working together on issues such as compelling North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, the official said.
The Japanese and South Korean defense chiefs met with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday, where they agreed to jointly work to ensure U.N. sanctions against North Korea are strictly enforced.