Last month, for the first time in 16 years, the Japanese Communist Party met to revise its basic political program. Part of the reason was that the party hopes a change of rhetoric, at least, will make it easier to form an opposition coalition to challenge the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition in the next general election.

But with media polls showing the JCP with weak support nationally, and given recent losses locally by the JCP and opposition-backed candidates, there is something of a “communist allergy” overshadowing the formal coalition talks.

Here are some questions about the JCP’s quest to unify Japan’s shattered opposition parties.

What happened at last month’s meeting to revise the JCP’s policy platform, and how is it different from the past?

The big news was that the JCP criticized China. For a party that had long been connected to the Chinese Communist Party, this was a very clear break with tradition.

Party chief Kazuo Shii called China’s quest for “great chauvinism” a serious mistake. “That action does not deserve the name of the Communist Party,” he said.

While not naming China directly, the JCP wrote that such chauvinism and hegemonism among “some of the major powers” has become an “adverse current to world peace and progress.” It added that the “struggle between the U.S. and other emerging powers has intensified and created new tensions in the world,” but that such a situation makes it more important to struggle against “any form of hegemonism.”

Many other fundamental parts of the Japanese Communist Party’s platform remained essentially the same as 2004, although promises to curb climate change were added.

What was behind the criticism of China?

Shii said the Chinese Communist Party was “not worthy of the name.” The criticism may have been partially calculated to position the JCP as a different kind of communist party not as threatening to the liberal world order as the Chinese Communist Party. For many years, and especially after the Upper House election last July, when it won seven seats that brought its total to 13, the JCP has been lobbying for a coalition with the main center-left opposition parties so they can back a single candidate against the LDP-Komeito candidate during election time, and adjusting its rhetoric to make that happen.

How have the other parties reacted?

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People differ with the JCP on critical issues that include the Japan-U.S. security treaty and nuclear power.

The JCP and CDPJ want to get out of nuclear power immediately, but the DPP wants a phased exit by 2030.

There are also practical political concerns.

Last November, the JCP’s candidate in the Kochi gubernatorial election was backed by the other opposition parties but failed to win. More recently, two media surveys earlier this month showed the JCP polling between 1.6 percent (NHK) and 3.5 percent (Kyodo News). These were some of the lowest support rates for any major party.

Between the Kochi result and the low polling numbers, it’s no wonder the other opposition parties are doubting the wisdom of joining hands with the JCP at election time, even though they often agree to cooperate and coordinate when questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other members of the ruling coalition in the Diet.

What about attempts to form a tie-up with Ichiro Ozawa?

Ichiro Ozawa | KYODO
Ichiro Ozawa | KYODO

Ozawa, a veteran heavyweight once known as a kingmaker whose influence helped shatter the LDP-Komeito coalition in 2009 and usher in the Democratic Party of Japan, is now with the Democratic Party for the People.

Many DPP members are deeply suspicious of the JCP and have severe policy differences with it. The JCP hopes Ozawa’s influence will be strong enough to persuade them to cooperate in a grand coalition.

Ozawa, who is also in favor of forming a grand opposition alliance, has long had at least cordial relations with the JCP and signalled that he would be open to working with them to establish a government. Earlier this month, Ozawa invited Shii to lecture at his political juku (school).

In a joint media session with reporters afterward, Shii said that, while they’ve held different positions and criticized each other for more than 20 years, they have spent the past five trying to form a unified opposition and that he trusts Ozawa.

For his part, Ozawa said that while JCP members often say various things, very few of them do so just to get party votes. He added that it would not be strange to see a general election take place after April, implying that moves by their two parties to cooperate need to happen quickly.

Why did Abe say the JCP was trying to promote a ‘violent revolution’?

During Diet questioning on Feb. 13, Abe said that between 1951 and 1953, the JCP engaged in activities in the justification of revolution, and that there were suspicions some party members engaged in violent activities. He added that it was his “understanding” that even today, the party hasn’t changed its policy of fomenting violent revolution.

Abe’s answer was in response to a question about the JCP being targeted for investigation by the Public Security Intelligence Agency under the Anti-Subversive Activities Act, making it the only established political party to be officially targeted. Each year, the Public Security Intelligence Agency reports on the activities of various domestic right-wing and left-wing groups, inserting a section just for the JCP.

The other major opposition parties swiftly condemned Abe and demanded he issue an apology and a retraction.

While Shii told reporters there were instances in the 1950s, when the JCP split up, that saw some members engage in “mistaken activities,” it was never party policy to carry out subversive activities.

Abe, his administration and his allies in the political and corporate world have long spoken of the JCP as intent on carrying out a “violent revolution” as way to appeal to older conservative, anti-communist voters who recall the Cold War ideological struggle that entangled Japan, the West and the communist world.

His most recent comment, coming just days after Shii visited Ozawa’s school, may have been an appeal to his base and an attempt to fan the flames of resistance among opposition members who are still reluctant to cooperate with the JCP in fielding election candidates.

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