Chinese Victims of Forced Labor Sue Japanese Companies in Chinese Courts; They Might Even Win
In a legal wrinkle to the ever-worsening Sino-Japanese relationship, the Chinese government has now publicly backed a lawsuit filed in Beijing courts against Japanese companies that used Chinese citizens as forced laborers during World War II.
The lawsuit names Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and Mitsui Mining and Smelting as defendants and asks for compensation of 1 million yuan ($163,000) for each defendant as well as apologies in the Chinese and Japanese languages to be placed with the country’s major media outlets.
Japan’s government has already opposed these lawsuits, saying that any such war reparation claims were settled by postwar agreements between China and Japan. Its spokesman:
“…I can say that since such problems were included in the Japan-China communique, there is no case,” he said. “The individual rights for seeking (compensation) were included in the communique.”
In a prior post, I noted that Korean courts have allowed similar lawsuits against Japanese companies to proceed despite pretty clear language blocking such lawsuits in the Korea – Japan Agreement on the Settlement of Property. Unless I am missing something, however, I don’t see any similarly clear language in either the China-Japan Peace Treaty or in the 1972 Communique re-establishing diplomatic relations. The Communique does contain this clause:
5. The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.
This language could be read to bar claims by wartime victims against Japanese companies for forced labor, but that reading is far from clear (at least to me). If you compare this language to the Korea-Japan Agreement (“problems concerning property, rights, and interests of the two High Contracting Parties and their peoples (including juridical persons)” were settled) (emphasis added) and the US-Japan Peace Treaty (“the Allied Powers waive all reparations claims of the Allied Powers, other claims of the Allied Powers and their nationals arising out of any actions taken by Japan and its nationals in the course of the prosecution of the war…”) (emphasis added), then the Japan-China Communique language looks far less protective..
In the China-Japan Communique, only the “Government of the People’s Republic of China” has “renounced its demand for war reparations.” The people of China, or individual Chinese people, might still have claims, and there is also no mention of waiving claims against Japanese persons or nationals. Normally, governments only have claims for reparations from other governments.
Moreover, while the U.S. took lots of Japanese property in “compensation” during its occupation of Japan before waiving its further claims, and Korea got the Japanese to pay a cool $300 million in 1965 dollars before settling its claims, the Chinese government got nothing (at least financially) for its agreement to waive its claims. This seems to further support the idea that some wartime claims still exist.
So read in context, the Chinese plaintiffs have a better case than their (already victorious) Korean brethren. It is also possible that the Communique (unlike the Peace Treaty) is a non-binding international agreement, which would also not have any direct effect in Chinese courts. So based on the relevant treaties and agreements, I think the plaintiffs have a decent case here. Inded, it is surprising that no similar lawsuit was filed before in Chinese courts. The reason probably has more to do with the nature of Chinese courts than the international treaties and agreements relating to this lawsuit.