The Liberal Democratic Party has launched a panel to scrutinize Japan’s modern history since the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, including the Allied occupation of the nation after World War II. It plans to invite a speaker once or twice a month to study particular themes. Members of the panel reportedly agree that the speakers should be ideologically neutral. The panel will not publish any report. But given the past remarks of LDP leaders including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who places the panel under his direct control, there are suspicions that the panel is aimed at pushing a revisionist view of Japan’s modern history and laying the groundwork for revising the Constitution, which looms as a major issue in next summer’s Upper House election.

The appointment of LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki — who is viewed as one of the shrinking ranks of doves within the party — as the panel’s head may be an attempt to dispel such suspicions. Tanigaki said it is wrong to study history to achieve a specific purpose — a remark apparently meant to deny that the panel would try to push for revisionist history. Before the launch of the panel, Tanigaki reportedly told Tomomi Inada, the LDP’s policy chief who became acting head of the panel, to refrain from any moves that the United States might regard as promoting a revisionist view of Japan’s modern history.

It was Inada, who is said to share Abe’s conservative views, that pushed for the creation of the panel. She had earlier expressed a desire to launch a panel to reexamine the postwar occupation of Japan by the Allied powers and the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which tried Japan’s wartime leaders. Inada holds the view that the Allied occupation and the trial — which she thinks was an unjust trial carried out by the WWII victors on the strength of an ex-post facto law — deprived the nation of “Japaneseness” and that it is necessary to overcome the historical viewpoints based on the trial, which determined that Japan’s modern war was a military aggression, in order to correct what she calls “distortions” inherent in Japan’s postwar regime.

“We would like to study objective facts with humility,” Inada said during last week’s first meeting of the panel. This remark needs to be weighed against previous statements made by Inada, such as that Japan doesn’t need to be bound by the assessment of facts that the Tokyo Trial gave as grounds for its rulings against Japan’s wartime leaders, even though the nation accepted the main text of the trial’s judgment and has no intention of denying it. And that the launch of the panel is significant in view of the LDP’s founding spirit as a party to tackle the challenge of revising the postwar Constitution.

There is nothing wrong in looking into what happened in history. But that is primarily be the job of academic researchers and journalists. In the first place, it is hard to understand what the panel actually wants to achieve by inviting and listening to speakers once or twice a month. It would be inappropriate if the panel intends to use the views expressed by the speakers to deny that Japan’s modern war was war of aggression.

In a 1995 statement marking the 50th year since Japan’s WWII defeat, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama explicitly apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression and colonial rule. In his statement this year on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, Abe said such a position of his predecessors “will remain unshakable into the future.” But Inada once urged the government to retract the Murayama statement. Since Japan accepted the judgment in the Tokyo Trial by signing the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which set the international framework surrounding postwar Japan, any move that might incur suspicions that Japan is casting doubts over the judgment could cause strong international repercussions, including from the U.S.

Past remarks and actions by Abe may give a clue as to the panel’s possible roles. During his first tenure as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, he enthusiastically called for a “departure from the postwar regime.” Taken literally, that should mean dismantling the basic institutions of postwar Japan — the most important being the Constitution. In a ceremony in November to mark the 60th anniversary of the LDP’s creation in 1955, Abe said the party’s founders were “resolved to change various institutions created during the occupation — the Constitution, the education system and the administrative system.”

While Abe says that the economy will be the priority in the Upper House election next year, former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whom the prime minister is believed to regard as his partner in pushing for a constitutional amendment, said that the revision should be an issue in the election. The election will test whether the LDP, which currently lacks a single majority in the Upper House, can forge a two-thirds majority with its allies in both chambers of the Diet — a condition needed to initiate a constitutional amendment for a national referendum.

The LDP panel’s prospectus says it aims to “shed a fresh light on important issues such as what Japan gained and lost during the postwar occupation period, or how the Allied occupation policies affected Japan’s postwar regime.” It would not be surprising if discussions at the panel go in the direction of labeling the Constitution as imposed by the U.S.-led Allied powers while the nation was under occupation, thus drumming up momentum for revising the Constitution. The prospectus also says that the panel’s mission is to make clear the LDP’s “starting point.” Given the party’s history and Abe’s statements, it seems clear that it refers to amending the Constitution and other postwar institutions. The way the discussions at the panel proceed needs to be closely monitored.

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