$163,000 per victim, Japan apology sought

Wartime labor suit filed in China


A group of Chinese experts and citizens filed suit Wednesday against two Japanese companies, seeking compensation for victims of wartime forced labor.

The group of 37 people is seeking compensation of 1 million yuan ($163,000) for each victim of wartime forced labor, as well as apologies for them and their families, from Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Nippon Coke & Engineering Co., formerly known as Mitsui Mining Co.

The 37 plaintiffs, who include victims, lawyers and scholars from the government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Peking University, filed the lawsuit with the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court.

If the court decides to hear the case, it will be the first lawsuit in China seeking compensation for victims of wartime forced labor involving Japanese companies.

“We decided to bring this case before the court as the companies did not respond constructively to us,” one of the lawyers said. “We are confident of it gaining acceptance.”

Both firms said they couldn’t comment because they had yet to see the complaint.

Until now, Chinese authorities have effectively prevented individuals from filing compensation lawsuits against Japan or Japanese entities out of concern it would hurt bilateral ties and hinder Japanese investment in China.

Japanese courts have turned down Chinese plaintiffs’ wartime compensation claims.

In 2007, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that Chinese individuals have no right to demand war reparations from Japan, noting that Beijing renounced its claims under the 1972 joint statement when Sino-Japanese diplomatic ties were normalized.

If the Beijing court accepts the lawsuit, it would mean the leadership headed by President Xi Jinping has given its approval for citizens to take war-related legal action, given that courts are under the strong influence of the ruling Communist Party.

If accepted, it is also very likely that the court would rule in favor of the plaintiffs and diplomatic and economic relations would be influenced in a profound way.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Japan’s liability for its wartime actions in China has already been settled by bilateral agreement.

“No outstanding problems exist” with regard to liability, including claims by individuals, following the 1972 statement that normalized relations between the two countries after World War II, Suga told a regular news conference.He declined comment on the lawsuit in detail, saying it is “a civil suit between the Chinese side and related companies.”

According to a report by the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, about 39,000 Chinese were uprooted and forced to work in Japanese coal mines and construction sites amid a great shortage of labor during the war Japan waged in China between 1937 and 1945, including some 3,700 who had to work for Mitsubishi Materials.

The Chinese group took legal action after South Korean courts ordered several Japanese firms last year to pay damages over wartime forced labor, even though Tokyo and Seoul agreed in 1965 when normalizing bilateral ties that all compensation issues had been settled.

The group’s action also comes as Beijing is stepping up its campaign at home and abroad to warn of Japan’s resurgent militarism, especially after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine in late December.

The group is considering filing similar lawsuits with courts in Shanghai and Chinese provinces, including Shandong and Hebei. If so, it is almost certain the number of plaintiffs will increase.

Asked about the legal action, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the forced recruitment of labor is “a severe crime” committed by the Japanese military during the war and described it as an unresolved historical issue.

“We urge the Japanese side to be responsible to history, seriously deal with relevant concerns and properly resolve relevant issues,” she said at a regular press briefing.

  • tommy92

    I assume China will also let people sue the Chinese government for forced labour in all their prison camps, re-education centres and during the horrors of the Cultural revolution. It was only late last year that China said they were shutting down forced labour camps. While they are at it, they should also allow South Koreans to sue for the damage inflicted on their country by Chinese troops during the Korean war.

  • phu

    BOTH of my grandfathers were forced to enter dangerous situations due to Japan’s illegal and unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. I demand compensation from Mitsubishi for producing the Zero!

    • Roppi

      @phu – you’re as genuine as a 3 dollar bill…
      You should demand nothing – instead go and ask your Chinese employers for payment for posting these ridiculous comments…

      • Guest

        Either you’ve completely failed to see the parody in my post, or you somehow believe these lawsuits are legitimate, or you’ve made a joke as well and I’m the one that’s missed it… and I can’t tell which it is.

      • phu

        You seem to have missed the fact that I was writing a parody of this article. Your insulting response is unwarranted and inappropriate.

  • YoDude12

    My grandfather was a civilian and was murdered by Japanese troops on Wake Island during WWII. I demand compensation from the Japanese government. No! My father won’t either, nor would my grandmother, were she alive. Get over it. Get over slavery. Get over the past.

    • phu

      Despite the fact that I’m getting harangued for making the same parody you have, just more subtly, I would like to say I feel exactly the same way.

      • YoDude12

        …actually, mine isn’t fully a parody. My father, a civilian contractor on Wake Island, was captured, enslaved, and then murdered when the Japanese deserted the island. Yes, the parody is offering, like you did, that any compensation is due. War is hell, and atrocities happen during war. I feel only sorrow for the future generations who are going to spend countless resources on prosecuting people for “war crimes” yet to happen, rather than on doing what it takes now, and using far fewer resources, to see fewer wars begin in the first place. All the best to you!

  • Joe

    It is funny what the Chinese courts do and don’t allow. A suit about forced labor 70 years ago moves forward, but nobody is allowed to sue or even talk about the forced labor that Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is currently being made to endure in a Chinese prison. What is more important, injustices that happened 70 years ago, or injustices that are happening right now? A country which continues to hold a Nobel Peace Prize winner in prison has little moral authority to talk about forced labor that happened 70 years ago, under a dictatorial Japanese regime that no longer exists.

  • phu

    Then perhaps you shouldn’t “write ‘parodies’ about subjects as emotional at these – save them for the lighter subjects.”

    • Roppi

      take you a while to think up that response out??