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.
Reuters
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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs