Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's ruling party on Tuesday launched a study group to review its modern history, amid reports it may take up contentious regional issues including the Nanjing massacre which Tokyo is accused of playing down.
The group "is aimed at studying historical events after the first Sino-Japanese War", a Liberal Democratic Party spokesman said, referring to a conflict between Japan and Qing dynasty-ruled China in 1894-95.
The study group was placed directly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is LDP president. It was attended by party officials including policy chief Tomomi Inada, the spokesman said.
Beijing responded coolly, saying Tokyo must avoid reinterpreting history. China and South Korea both criticise Japan for soft-pedalling on historical issues.
The party spokesman did not elaborate on issues the group would examine, but private Nippon TV reported that some attendees requested it review Japan's colonial rule over Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
They said this differed from Western colonialism and had been misunderstood by Japanese people.
NTV also said the group, which is to meet once or twice a month, would consider taking up subjects such as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
Also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, the tribunal sentenced some Japanese World War II-era leaders to death as war criminals.
Some Japanese conservatives and nationalists say the trials were nothing more than victor's justice, maintaining that their country fought to free Asia from Western colonialism.
They also say that Japan's takeover of Taiwan and Korea came in an era when Western powers were carving up much of Asia for their own benefit.
Japan should "respect the verdict of history, acknowledge the history of aggression, honour the commitments and statements it has made and win back trust from its Asian neighbours and the international community with concrete actions", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing when asked about the study group at a regular briefing.
Especially contentious for China is the Nanjing massacre -- often referred to as the "Rape of Nanking". Beijing says 300,000 people were slaughtered after the city fell to soldiers in 1937 following Japan's invasion.
Some respected foreign academics put the number of deaths lower but there is very little mainstream scholarship doubting that a massacre took place.
In Japan, however, some conservatives and nationalists deny that atrocities were committed.