More than 3,000 Chinese have opted to settle a dispute with Mitsubishi Materials Corp. over the company’s use of wartime forced labor by receiving apologies and compensation of 100,000 yuan (¥2 million) for each victim, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations have said.
Mitsubishi Materials is understood to be prepared to offer the money to 3,765 Chinese — the largest number of people to be subject to a Japanese company’s postwar compensation.
This is also the first time that a Japanese firm has decided to apologize and pay monetary compensation to Chinese war victims in relation to a case that has already been rejected by Japan’s Supreme Court.
A negotiation team representing the Chinese groups and Mitsubishi Materials are preparing to soon sign a historic reconciliation agreement in Beijing, the sources said, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Mitsubishi Materials has admitted that its predecessor, Mitsubishi Mining Co., and subcontractors accepted 3,765 Chinese people as forced laborers and infringed on their human rights, according to the sources.
The victims were part of about 39,000 Chinese who were brought to Japan against their will between 1943 and 1945 in line with a Japanese government decision to address a growing shortage of labor in areas such as coal mining and construction.
Due to hard labor and privation, 6,830 of them died. Starting in the 1990s, Chinese survivors of forced labor and their families filed a series of compensation lawsuits against the Japanese government and Japanese companies.
But the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that Chinese individuals had no judicial right to demand wartime compensation as it had already been renounced under a 1972 joint communique issued when Sino-Japanese diplomatic ties were normalized.
Mitsubishi Materials will express “deep remorse” and “sincere apologies,” the sources said, adding that it will pay ¥100 million for the construction of monument to recognize its mistakes and ¥200 million toward the search for missing victims and their relatives.
Of the 3,765, only about 1,500 Chinese survivors of forced labor and their families have been found so far.
The Chinese groups, which had hoped to restore the dignity of aging victims while they were still alive, started negotiations with the Tokyo-based company in January 2014. Mitsubishi Materials will come to terms with three Chinese groups that have sought compensation from it. Both sides recognize that the signing of the agreement will be a final settlement of the issue.
The three groups represent a large majority of the victims.
One different Chinese group of 37 people filed a compensation lawsuit in February 2014 with a Beijing court against Mitsubishi Materials.
The group took legal action after South Korean courts ordered several Japanese firms in 2013 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.
It also took place at a time when the Chinese government was stepping up its campaign at home and abroad to warn of Japan’s resurgent militarism, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit in late 2013 to Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are enshrined along with the country’s war dead.
Earlier this year, the group broke off its out-of-court settlement negotiations with the company. If the Chinese court decides to begin a trial, it will be the first compensation case of its kind in China involving victims of forced labor and a Japanese company.
Until last year, Chinese authorities largely prevented individuals from filing compensation suits against Japan out of concern it could hurt bilateral ties and discourage Japanese investment.
On Sunday, Mitsubishi Materials apologized to almost 900 former American prisoners of war who were used as forced labor at mines operated by its predecessor.
Chinese official media gave heavy coverage to the apology, with the tone that the Japanese government and companies should also be more sincere to people in other parts of Asia who suffered under Japan’s past militarism.