By Sui-Lee Wee and Li Hui
(Reuters – May 12, 2014)
Descendants of hundreds of Chinese men forced to work in wartime Japan are suing Japanese corporations in a Chinese court in Shandong Province.
In possibly the biggest class-action suit in Chinese legal history, about 700 descendants of Chinese forced laborers filed suit against two Japanese firms in April of this year, said Fu Qiang, a lawyer representing the families.
Japan invaded China in 1937 and ruled parts of it with a brutal hand for the next eight years. 40,000 or more men were taken to Japan against their will to work in mines and construction under terrible working conditions, and many never made it back to China. Among the plaintiffs are several forced laborers, now in their 80s and 90s, and this might be their last chance to seek redress.
The suit was filed against Mitsubishi Corp (Qingdao) Ltd, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp, and Yantai Misubishi Cement Co, a joint venture between Mitsubishi Corp and construction firm Mitsubishi Materials Corp, Fu said.
The plaintiffs are each seeking 1 million yuan ($160,100) in compensation, a public apology in several prominent Chinese and Japanese newspapers, as well as the erection of a memorial and monument in remembrance of the forced laborers, and paying for their legal expenses.
Many such lawsuits were filed in Japanese courts during the last two decades, but all of them were unsuccessful for reasons such as the Chinese government had waived WWII compensation under the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique.
However, these lawsuits are now in Chinese courts, and furthermore, the plaintiffs and their lawyers argue that Chinese citizens never waived their rights for compensation from Japan.
Although it may be a long and difficult road ahead, including whether the Shandong court will hear their case, the plaintiffs and their supporters already see two positive signs:
- The acceptance by a Beijing court of a smaller suit in February from 40 plaintiffs demanding compensation for Chinese citizens made by the Japanese to work as forced laborers for Mitsubishi Materials Corp and Nippon Coke during WWII
- Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd recently agreed to pay $29 million for the release of their vessel after Chinese lawyers were successful in impounding the vessel in a different lawsuit.
For more information about this lawsuit, see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/12/us-china-japan-reparations-insight-idUSBREA4B0VO20140512