A Beijing court has for the first time agreed to hear a lawsuit by Chinese citizens demanding compensation from Japanese firms for World War II forced labor, their lawyer said, a move Japan termed “seriously” worrying.
Kang Jian (康健), an attorney for the plaintiffs, on Tuesday confirmed the decision by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, which follows several failed efforts to bring such cases in both China and Japan.
The move comes in defiance of Tokyo, which argues such cases are barred by international agreement, and with relations between the Asian giants at their lowest point in decades.
Tokyo’s top spokesman yesterday reiterated the country’s apology for forced labor and said the case could worsen ties further.
“We received a notice from the court that the case has been accepted,” Kang said.
“Based on the evidence and the facts at hand, there’s no reason they shouldn’t rule that the companies are responsible,” she added.
Two survivors and 35 people whose relatives were forced laborers filed the suit late last month against Mitsubishi Materials Corp and Nippon Coke & Engineering Co, formerly known as Mitsui Mining.
Kang said yesterday that an additional three relatives had joined the suit, raising the total number of plaintiffs to 40. The laborers and their relatives are demanding 1 million yuan (US$161,000) in compensation for each worker, as well as apologies printed in Chinese and Japanese newspapers.
Tens of thousands of Chinese were forcibly sent to Japan to work in factories and mines to fill a manpower breach arising from Japan’s massive World War II military mobilization.
Japanese courts have rejected numerous similar cases filed there over the years, with the country’s Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that individual Chinese cannot demand compensation from Japan. It said China gave up its right to make such claims when the countries normalized relations more than four decades ago.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday expressed remorse over forced labor, but said that a 1972 joint communique nullified Chinese rights to demand war-related compensation.
“Regarding the forced recruitment and labor of Chinese people, the government cannot deny that many people fell into unfortunate situations in those days,” Suga told reporters. “We think it was extremely regrettable that [Japan] caused unbearable suffering and sorrow for many people, even though it was in the abnormal situation of war.”
However, the court case raised troubling questions, he said.
“We cannot help worrying seriously about the possible impact on the war settlement between Japan and China and bilateral economic relations as it could trigger similar cases in China,” Suga said.
The Beijing court’s acceptance of the case follows a separate lawsuit filed against both companies as well as the Japanese government earlier this month in Hebei Province.