News / Asia

Chinese Families Seek Wartime Compensation from Japanese Firms

Pictures of Liu Guolian's father Liu Qian, who was a forced labourer by Mitsui Mining to work in their mines in Fukuoka of Japan, are seen on a table during an interview with Reuters on the outskirts of Beijing, April 28, 2014.
Pictures of Liu Guolian's father Liu Qian, who was a forced labourer by Mitsui Mining to work in their mines in Fukuoka of Japan, are seen on a table during an interview with Reuters on the outskirts of Beijing, April 28, 2014.
As relations between China and Japan plummet to a new low, the descendants of nearly one thousand Chinese men forced to work in wartime Japan are taking big, modern-day Japanese companies to court, seeking millions in compensation.   
Japan invaded China in 1937 in a bloody war and ruled 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 perform construction work. Survivors say living conditions were appalling. Many did not make it back to China.
Last month, China impounded a ship owned by Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd over a dispute that dates back to the war between the countries. The seizure had sparked some initial concerns that Japanese assets in China might become casualties in legal battles between Japanese companies and activists seeking redress.
In March, a Chinese court in Beijing accepted a case against Japanese companies for forced labor in World War II for the first time. Since then, nearly 1000 families seeking compensation have joined similar lawsuits against large Japanese corporations, such as Mitsubishi Materials Co, Nippon Coke and Engineering Co and Nippon Yakin Kogyo.
The lawsuits arrive at a sore point in China-Japan ties and could further irritate diplomatic relations. Late last month, China released previously confidential Japanese wartime documents, including some about comfort women forced to serve in military brothels. The files also contain details of the Nanjing Massacre, a major source of heated debate between the countries. 
It is unclear whether the lawsuits will be accepted by the Chinese courts, but lawyers say they are optimistic because the courts have asked them to provide more evidence to their claims.
Kang Jian, the lawyer for Liu Guolian, the daughter of a former forced laborer named Liu Qian, who died in 2010, said Liu, as well as 39 other plaintiffs, are owed 1 million yuan each, but Mitsubishi has made a “very, very low” counteroffer. She declined to disclose the figure as talks are still ongoing. Officials from Nippon Coke have refused to meet, she said.
“Actually, we filed suit in Japan [first], in order make it easier to thoroughly investigate the facts. Now, in reality, it also gave the Japanese government and the relevant Japanese companies an opportunity to resolve this on their own accord. But what's extremely unfortunate is, the Japanese government and the relevant Japanese companies are not very smart. They themselves gave up, and lost, this opportunity,” she said.
Japan insists that the issue of compensation was settled by the framework of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which formally ended the war, and by later bilateral treaties.
Many of the former forced laborers have died in the more than half century since the war.
“The Japanese government has put off a resolution all along, and now the forced laborers have passed away, one by one. So this time in the lawsuit, out of the 40 plaintiffs, there are only 2 survivors. However, our lawsuit can still be filed smoothly, because with more than ten years of litigation means we have, in practice, already clearly investigated the facts about the victims. We've kept a detailed record of the investigation, and the evidence is basically complete, so this time, our Beijing lawsuit shouldn't face any obstacles related to this issue,” Kang said.
Liu Guolian said her father spent over a year as a forced laborer of Mitsui Mining, now Nippon Coke, to work in their mines in Fukuoka, Japan. She said he often went hungry and had to pick on food scraps by the roadside to survive. His Japanese supervisor had even used an axe to hit his leg, causing him permanent injury.
“He said, 'I'm very lucky.' At the time, he was right in the prime of his life, 20-something years old. He said there were some who were older than him, or there were some kids in their teens - they had them all. He said there were some who didn't come back,” she said.
During the war, 7,000 Chinese men who worked for 35 Japanese firms died, state news agency Xinhua said.
“You get humiliated, you face so much hardship, you get no apology, or even any wages, who would accept that? To his dying breath, he still said, ‘If you have the chance, you have to settle this account with them,’” Liu said.
Spokesmen for Nippon Coke and Mitsubishi Materials both declined to comment. A Nippon Yakin spokesman said the company is unaware of any new lawsuits against it.
The pressure on the firms is particularly intense at this time in China, which is sore about a row with Japan over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit last year to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war criminals are honored among the country's war dead.

You May Like

Video Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs