Submitted By: Lindsay Yoshitomi
New York Times Article Summary: [Subscription to The New York Times required to read full article]
More than half a century later, Chinese men who were forced to work in Japan’s coal mines during World War II are pursuing lawsuits against the Japanese government. Many were tricked into working for the mines through false advertising, while others were abducted by Japanese soldiers. Last November, many of the laborers and their families went to Japan to recover unpaid wartime wages and compensation, neither of which has ever been offered by the Japanese government.
â€œThe Japanese government bears responsibility for our suffering, and so do companies,â€ said Tang Kunyuan, a former enslaved laborer of Mitsubishi Mining which is today known as Mitsubishi Materials, a leader in metal and ceramic materials for the electronic industry. â€œFirst we want an apology, then compensation.â€
Evidence of forced labor during the war has now prompted hundreds of Chinese to file lawsuits against the Japanese government and the successors of the mining companies. Japanese government data has revealed that because of labor shortages during the war, almost 40,000 Chinese men were forcibly brought to Japan to work for 35 companies, 22 which continue to do business. Three suits have successfully reached the Supreme Court, but the results have been more in favor of the defendants who received eight rulings, while the plaintiffs won four. The Japanese government and companies involved are standing behind the 20-year statute of limitations, claiming that the right to sue has expired, or that treaties between the two countries following the war has invalidated such claims. This attitude goes against international trends in recent years to ignore legalities and instead, compensate for wages involving forced labor. Mitsubishi Materials has even gone as far as to deny its involvement of forced labor.
In contrast to Japan, Germany and Austria have apologized and compensated its victims of slave labor by paying $5 billion and $350 million respectively to hundreds of thousands of individuals. Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, continue to promote the minimization of its military past in textbooks, thus strengthening the mood against offering reparations. Mitsubishi’s lawyers concur with Abe’s sentiments, stating that ruling in favor of the Chinese would â€œimpose a wrong burden of the soul on future generations of our nation, possibly for the next hundred years.â€
After the war, the majority of Chinese laborers were sent home without pay, while some received I.O.U.’s from defunct banks. Today, millions of dollars of unpaid wages continue to be held by the Bank of Japan and government agencies. Chinese business leaders have established a fund totaling $315,000 in contributions to help plaintiffs pursue lawsuits, an effort supported by the Chinese government. Chinese lawyers are beginning to pressure Chinese branches of Japanese businesses, many of which are reaping the benefits of China’s booming economy.
Having great grandparents and grandparents of Japanese decent who were interned in American prison camps for 3 years during World War II, I can sympathize with the Chinese laborers who were ironically enslaved by Japan. My fraternal great grandparents and grandparents, after being given 10 days notice to relocate to the internment camps, lost their dry cleaning business, their home and belongings. When they were released, they were given $50 and their freedom, a right that was worth nothing to our government. A $20,000 reparation was awarded to living individuals almost a half century later along with an apology for the unjust treatment of American citizens. Unfortunately for some, it was too little, too late. For others, it was the beginning of a healing process, though late. Discussions regarding wartime reparations have always gone two ways. There are those who say, it was war; there are always victims and atrocitiesâ€¦.we did what we thought was best for white America. Others say, for humanity sake, we must make amends for cruel injustices and our mistakes in judgment. Right now for the Chinese who have access to wartime evidence of enforced labor, I can understand their need to close that chapter of their past.
Recognizing that Germany, Austria and the U.S. have made compensations to victims of World War II:
1) What do you think about Japan’s hardened position against making reparations to former enslaved mine workers?
2) With China emerging as a powerhouse in the global economy, how do you think this will affect the Japanese companies that having growing operations there?
3) Do you think this issue will have any effect on the rivalry between China and Japan, and their quest for leadership in Asia?