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Chinese Activists Demand Reparations for Abandoned Japanese Chemical Weapons - 2003-09-18

Painful memories of World War II are being revisited in China. Activists in Beijing demanded that the Japanese government pay reparations for chemical weapons abandoned by its troops nearly six decades ago.

Activists said they gathered more than one million signatures by Chinese people through a Web site.

The petition demands that Tokyo pay more reparations and apologize for chemical weapons left behind by troops who occupied China's northeast during World War II.

More than 40 people had to be hospitalized last month, when workers in the northeastern city of Qiqihar found and accidentally punctured canisters containing poison gas left by Japanese forces.

Japan at the time said it would take responsibility for medical and clean-up costs.

Many Chinese remain angry about atrocities that Japanese forces committed during their occupation of China. Japan has never issued a formal apology for its invasion of China, in which millions of Chinese died.

The suffering was recalled in the northeastern city of Shenyang, where former American prisoners of war gathered for a remembrance ceremony.

Former Army Sergeant Robert Rosendahl, 82, who was held captive by Japanese imperial forces for three years, was among those attending. He recalled the kinship he felt with Chinese who were living under Japanese occupation.

"The Chinese people were every bit as much prisoners as we were," he said.

Mr. Rosendahl remembers how Chinese people were prevented from speaking to him and other American captives. He recalls acts of heroism by some Chinese who passed food to the Americans under the prison fence.

"They could not talk to you or they could not spend any time with you because they [the Japanese] would just kill them, shoot them, or bayonet them," he said.

Although the resentment expressed by many Chinese over a war is real, some analysts say China's government has often used history as a bargaining chip in its political and trade dealings with Japan.

Both the presentation of the petition and the remembrance ceremony were carried out with the consent of the Chinese government.

While relations between the two countries are cordial, there are some contentious issues, mainly having to do with trade. Japan is at the forefront of a drive by several nations, including the United States, to pressure China to relax controls on its currency.