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Tokyo Court Rules Against Chinese World War II Victims

Against a backdrop of violent anti-Japanese demonstrations across China, a Japanese court has rejected the latest claim filed by Chinese victims of Japanese atrocities more than 60 years ago. The plaintiffs left the courtroom displaying a banner that read "Unjust verdict."

The 10 Chinese survivors of Japanese atrocities, including the 1937 massacre in Nanjing, had filed suit asking for compensation.

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday said that compensation for war crimes is a bilateral issue between countries and individuals do not have the standing to bring such cases to court.

Jan Ting is a law professor at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, which is based in the United States. He says this decision is no surprise. Japanese judges have consistently ruled against those seeking compensation for Japanese actions in Asia before and during World War Two.

"This is predictable given the state of Japanese law," he said. "Normally these are bilateral issues, but if a country wants to they can open themselves up to liability and it's not unusual for countries to adopt statutes that allow individual parties to bring claims against whatever other parties, including government institutions, they consider to be liable."

China has seen a wave of often violent anti-Japanese demonstrations over the past few weeks. The protests were sparked, in part, by new Japanese textbooks that downplay atrocities Tokyo's troops committed in Asia in the early 20th century. The protests and an exchange of bitter comments from both governments have brought relations between China and Japan to their lowest level in 30 years.

Professor Ting says his Japanese students are quite ignorant of what their country did in China in the last century. At one point, Japan controlled more than half of China, and its occupation was brutal - with hundreds of thousands dying from the ravages of war, disease and hunger. Thousands more were executed by Japanese troops or used as test subjects in lethal medical experiments.

Mr. Ting says students in China, however, are well versed in that history and Tuesday's court ruling could spark further demonstrations.

"I have no doubt when word of these decisions gets back to China it'll be just fuel in the fire and give people who want to hold more demonstrations and want to blame the Japanese for things more excuses for doing so," added Professor Ting.

The 1937 killing of civilians in Nanjing is one of the most contentious of the lingering historical issues between China and Japan. China says about 300,000 civilians were killed by Japanese. War crimes trials after World War II, led by the United States, documented less than half that number of victims. Japan's most nationalist textbooks, which are used by only a handful of schools, only say that "many" Chinese died in what is referred to as an "incident."

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