Hundreds of Chinese families seek wartime compensation from Japan
By Sui-Lee Wee and Li Hui
May 12, 2014
As relations between China and Japan plumb a new low, the descendants of hundreds of Chinese men forced to work in wartime Japan are taking big, modern-day Japanese corporates to court. They are seeking millions in compensation.
Japan invaded China in 1937 and ruled parts of it with a brutal hand for the next eight years. Chinese historians say nearly 40,000 men were taken to Japan against their will to work in mines and construction. Survivors say living conditions were appalling. Many did not make it back to China.
In possibly the biggest class-action suit in Chinese legal history, about 700 plaintiffs lodged a case against two Japanese firms at a courthouse in eastern Shandong province in April, said Fu Qiang, a lawyer representing the families. Among the plaintiffs are several forced laborers, now in their 80s and 90s, and this might be their last chance to seek redress. …
It is unclear whether the lawsuit, with other smaller cases, will be accepted. But lawyers say there is a good chance they will be heard after a Shanghai court last month impounded a Japanese ship over a dispute that dates back to the 1930s war between the two nations. …
Dozens of wartime compensation suits had been filed in Japan against the Japanese government and companies associated with the country’s wartime aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including World War Two. Almost all have been rejected by Japanese courts.
Japan insists that the issue of war reparations was settled by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which formally ended the war, and by later bilateral treaties. Japan’s Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that Chinese individuals have lost their right to claim war compensation from Japan and its companies under the 1972 Japan-China joint communiqué.
“I think the lawsuits have the potential to be very significant if the Chinese courts allow them to go forward,” said Julian Ku, a law professor from Hofstra University in New York, who has written about the forced labor lawsuits in China.
“They would signal that Chinese courts will not read the 1972 China-Japan Communiqué and subsequent peace treaty as a settlement of all wartime claims,” he said in emailed comments. “Of course, if the Chinese courts allow these cases to forward, it would be a serious irritant to China-Japan relations.”