Japan hosts future S. Korean military officers weeks after flap over 'rising sun' flag
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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Future South Korean military officers checked out the USS Wasp and its homeport of Sasebo, Japan, Tuesday during a tour organized by the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
The visit by 160 midshipmen and cadets from the Republic of Korea Army, Navy and Air Force comes just weeks after Japan pulled out of an international fleet review hosted by South Korea over a flag dispute.
The group learned about the Wasp’s capabilities as they explored its flight deck and hangars. The 844-foot amphibious-assault ship — which can carry Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing stealth fighters — returned from deployment last week after providing humanitarian assistance to the Northern Mariana Islands as they recovered from damage wrought by last month’s Typhoon Mangkhut.
The South Korean cadets, who arrived on a pair of ROK Navy destroyers and a landing ship, will tour other vessels and facilities and meet the mayor of Sasebo this week, said Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spokesman Cmdr. Masa Yokoyama.
The visit promotes “mutual understanding and deepening of defense interaction,” he said.
Last month, Japan announced it would not send a warship to an international fleet review hosted by South Korea because it could not accept Seoul’s request that it remove the Japanese navy’s “rising sun” flag, an Associated Press report said.
Many South Koreans see the flag as a symbol of Japan’s World War II aggression, and protested its use during the Oct. 10-14 event near Jeju island.
Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of Task Force 76, said in an email that it’s an honor to host the cadets.
“We … look forward to serving alongside the bright young men and women serving in the militaries of both nations for many years to come,” he said.
The visit marks the 22nd by South Korean cadets to Japan in a little over a decade. Cadets toured Yokosuka Naval Base last December, Yokoyama said.
Stars and Stripes correspondent Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.
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