February 26, 2014 / 5:01 AM / 6 years ago

Chinese wartime forced laborers sue Japanese firms

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Beijing court accepted a lawsuit on Wednesday demanding compensation for Chinese citizens made by the Japanese to work as forced laborers during World War Two, state media reported.

Relatives hold portraits of Chinese victims of forced labour during World War Two, as they stand outside a court in Beijing February 26, 2014. REUTERS/China Daily

The 37 people who have lodged the suit include lawyers and academics as well as forced laborers and their families, according to Chinese media reports.

Chinese state television said the lawsuit seeks printed apologies carried in Chinese and Japanese newspapers as well as compensation from Mitsubishi Materials Corp and another unidentified company.

“As there is no way to get justice in Japan, the Chinese victims of forced labor and their families are determined to sue in China the Japanese companies which did them harm,” Zhang Shan, a member of the class-action suit, told the official China News Service.

Dozens of wartime compensation suits have been filed previously in Japan against Japan’s government and companies associated with its aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including World War Two. Almost all have been rejected by Japanese courts.

A Mitsubishi Materials spokesman said the company was unable to comment because it did not know the details of the latest case.

Chinese courts come under the control of the ruling Communist Party and the suit is almost certain to be won by the plaintiffs, although it is highly unlikely the ruling could be enforced outside of China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she believed the court would handle the case according to the law.

“Forced recruitment and enslavement of labor was one of the grave crimes Japan committed during its aggressive wars against foreign countries and colonial rule and is one of historical issues remaining unresolved,” she told reporters.

“We urge Japan to adopt a responsible attitude to history, take the relevant issue seriously and properly address concerns.”

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said he was aware of reports on the case but declined to give any detailed comment because it was a case between individuals and private companies.

“However, we believe that according to a joint declaration between Japan and China, the (right) to make these claims does not exist,” he told reporters.

The Japanese government 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.

It says all wartime compensation issues concerning China were settled by a 1972 joint statement establishing diplomatic ties.

Zhang Shijie (2nd R), a former forced labourer who worked at a coal mine in Japan during World War Two, walks outside a court in Beijing February 26, 2014. REUTERS/China Daily

China’s ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what China sees as Japan’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.

Deteriorating relations have been fuelled by a row over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising fears of a clash.

Ties have worsened since China’s creation of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine honoring war criminals among Japan’s war dead.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Li Hui; Additional reporting by Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Matt Driskill

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