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Hundreds of Chinese families seek wartime compensation from Japan

Posted: 12 May 2014 08:20 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - As relations between China and Japan plumb a new low, the descendants of hundreds of Chinese men forced to work in wartime Japan are taking big, modern-day Japanese corporates to court. They are seeking millions in compensation.

Japan invaded China in 1937 and ruled parts of 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 construction. Survivors say living conditions were appalling. Many did not make it back to China.

In possibly the biggest class-action suit in Chinese legal history, about 700 plaintiffs lodged a case against two Japanese firms at a courthouse in eastern Shandong province in April, said Fu Qiang, a lawyer representing the families. Among the plaintiffs are several forced labourers, now in their 80s and 90s, and this might be their last chance to seek redress.

The suit was filed against Mitsubishi Corp (Qingdao) Ltd, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp, and Yantai Misubishi Cement Co, a joint venture between Mitsubishi Corp and construction firm Mitsubishi Materials Corp, Fu said.

The plaintiffs are each seeking 1 million yuan (94902 pounds) in compensation, a public apology in several prominent Chinese and Japanese newspapers, as well as the erection of a memorial and monument in remembrance of the forced labourers, Fu said, adding that they also want the companies to fund their legal expenses.

It is unclear whether the lawsuit, with other smaller cases, will be accepted. But lawyers say there is a good chance they will be heard after a Shanghai court last month impounded a Japanese ship over a dispute that dates back to the 1930s war between the two nations.

The lawsuits 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 debate between the countries.

The number of plaintiffs, including families and surviving forced labourers seeking redress, total at least 940, with combined claims reaching at least 865 million yuan, lawyers say.

That figure could rise further as there were nearly 8,000 forced labourers from Shandong during the war, according to Fu.

The other two Japanese companies involved in the suits are coal producer Nippon Coke and Engineering Industry Co, formerly known as Mitsui Mining Co, and stainless steel maker Nippon Yakin Kogyo, the lawyers say.

"When we took the labourers to Japan to negotiate a settlement and listened to their speeches, they moved us to tears," said Deng Jianguo, a lawyer involved in five of these lawsuits since 2007. "They (the Japanese companies) have the ability to compensate and make amends for (their) past mistakes, but they aren't doing it. I think, morally, you can't justify this."

Similar suits would be filed in central Henan and northern Hebei provinces, Deng said.

Mitsubishi Corp's spokesman Susumu Isogai said in Tokyo: "We can't make any comment as we have not received the complaint."

Takuya Kitamura, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Materials, and Masayuki Miyazaki, a spokesman for Nippon Coke, both declined to comment, saying they both had not received any complaints.

A Nippon Yakin spokesman, who declined to be identified, said the company is unaware of any new lawsuits against it.


Lawyers say they are optimistic the latest cases will be heard as the courts have asked them to provide more evidence to their claims.

In 2010, a Chinese court threw out a lawsuit filed by 1,000 forced labourers against Mitsubishi Corp (Qingdao) and Yantai Misubishi Cement Co, Fu said.

But lawyers say the impounding of the Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd ship is giving them hope.

The seizure had sparked some initial concerns that Japanese assets in China might become casualties in legal battles between Japanese corporates and activists seeking redress. Mitsui later paid about $29 million for the release of the vessel.

Several international war claims experts said it is important to note the acceptance by a Beijing court of a smaller suit in February from 40 plaintiffs demanding compensation for Chinese citizens made by the Japanese to work as forced labourers for Mitsubishi Materials Corp and Nippon Coke during World War Two, a first by a Chinese court.

The significance of the court accepting the lawsuit and the seizure of the Mitsui ship "is not wholly clear at this point, but it does suggest that compensation might be in the offing", Timothy Webster, the director of East Asian Legal Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said in an email.


The deterioration in relations between China and Japan was a boost to activists working to win war reparations, said Tong Zeng, a veteran Chinese activist who has been leading the charge for wartime compensation from Japan.

Tong, who has also been advising the plaintiffs, said the government had previously indicated that the families should not sue for fear the legal attacks would hurt Sino-Japanese relations.

Dozens of wartime compensation suits had been filed in Japan against the Japanese government and companies associated with the country's wartime aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including World War Two. Almost all have been rejected by Japanese courts.

Japan insists that the issue of war reparations was settled by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which formally ended the war, and by later bilateral treaties. Japan's Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that Chinese individuals have lost their right to claim war compensation from Japan and its companies under the 1972 Japan-China joint communique.

"I think the lawsuits have the potential to be very significant if the Chinese courts allow them to go forward," said Julian Ku, a law professor from Hofstra University in New York, who has written about the forced labour lawsuits in China.

"They would signal that Chinese courts will not read the 1972 China-Japan Communique and subsequent peace treaty as a settlement of all wartime claims," he said in emailed comments. "Of course, if the Chinese courts allow these cases to forward, it would be a serious irritant to China-Japan relations."

The families base their claim on the belief that Beijing did not forfeit the rights of individual war victims to seek compensation in the agreement signed between China and Japan in 1972, Tong said.

"German courts, interestingly enough, do not read these treaty waivers as barring such direct suits", Richard Buxbaum, a retired law professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law and an expert on international reparations, said in emailed comments. He added that the courts, however, do bar them on other grounds such as statutes of limitations and prescriptions against "old" claims.


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 Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honoured among the country's war dead.

Kang Jian, a lawyer representing the 40 people, said she and her Japanese counterparts have met with officials from Mitsubishi Materials, but talks with them have not been successful.

The plaintiffs are seeking 1 million yuan each, but Mitsubishi has made a "very, very low" counteroffer, said Kang. She declined to disclose the figure as talks are still going on. Officials from Nippon Coke have refused to meet, she said.

Liu Guolian, one of the 40 plaintiffs in a Beijing case, said her father Liu Qian had been tricked by Mitsui Mining into working in mines in Fukuoka, Japan. He spent over a year there.

Her father, who died in 2010, often went hungry and had to pick on food scraps by the roadside to survive. His Japanese supervisor even hacked at his leg with an axe once, she said.

Cui Chunping, who is suing Mitsubishi Materials in Beijing, said his father was abducted to work in a Mitsubishi mine during the war. "When the foreman disliked you, he would use a whip to hit you," Cui said.

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in first paragraph, no other changes to text)

(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in TOKYO and Norihiko Shirouzu in BEIJING; Editing by Ryan Woo)

No nuclear deal with Iran unless actions 'verifiable' - Obama aide

Posted: 12 May 2014 07:50 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran must agree to "verifiable action" to satisfy U.S. concerns about its nuclear program or else there will be no final deal, President Barack Obama's top national security aide said on Monday on the eve of a new round of talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna.

Addressing an Israeli Independence Day celebration in Washington, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice sought to reassure a pro-Israel audience that Washington would take a tough line with Tehran, despite Israeli worries that the Obama administration is giving up too much in the negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, said Iran's nuclear program was a "clear and present danger" and Tehran cannot be allowed to get the capability to make nuclear arms.

A November interim accord easing sanctions on Iran made clear that Washington and five other world powers would let it enrich uranium on a limited scale under a final agreement. But Israel wants the Iranians to be stripped of all disputed nuclear projects, a demand that put it at odds with its chief ally, the United States.

"We all have a responsibility to give diplomacy a chance to succeed. But America won't be satisfied by mere words. We will only be satisfied by verifiable action from Iran," Rice said to light applause from an audience that included Israeli diplomats and American supporters of the Jewish state.

"Put simply, if we are not satisfied, there will be no deal," Rice, who visited Israel last week, said, promising continued consultations with Israeli officials.

Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will meet in Vienna on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations aimed at reaching a broad diplomatic settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.

Iran, Israel's arch-foe in the region, denies it is seeking nuclear weapons capability. Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.


Rice also reaffirmed that the Obama administration would "stay true to the cause of peace" between Israel and the Palestinians, despite the recent breakdown of a nine-month diplomatic effort pushed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Even though we have reached a pause in the negotiations, we continue to encourage the parties to work and act towards a future of peace," Rice said.

But visiting Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who spoke after Rice and echoed her praise for the longstanding U.S.-Israeli alliance, hinted at lingering tensions between Washington and Israel over the failed talks.

Some Israeli officials took umbrage last week when U.S. envoy Martin Indyk singled out Jewish settlement construction on occupied land as one of the main reasons for the diplomatic collapse, even though he also faulted the Palestinians for signing 15 international treaties and conventions.

"We are eager to have peace not because somebody is telling us that we need peace," said Steinitz, a Netanyahu confidant. But "because it's important for the state of Israel and Israelis."

He said most Israelis would support "difficult concessions" but on two conditions – "that it will be a real genuine peace and real security."

But neither Rice nor Steinitz offered any new path forward on a diplomatic track that appears to offer little hope for now.

Leader of China's anti-graft fight tells state-owned firms to behave

Posted: 12 May 2014 07:25 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top graft-buster has told the country's state-owned industries that they also have a responsibility to follow the ruling Communist Party's rules on fighting corruption, state media said on Tuesday, as Beijing broadens its graft campaign.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to target powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies" in a fight against corruption that he has said threatens the Communist Party's very existence.

The party has already set its sights on the state-owned energy sector, including State Grid Corp of China, PetroChina, and its parent firm, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).

In March, the chairman and the president of Three Gorges Corp., the company that built the $59 billion (34.96 billion pounds) project for the world's biggest hydro-power scheme, stepped down, but they have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

"Responsible people at central state organs, central industries and state-own financial organisations must not forget their positions in the party and their responsibilities," Wang Qishan, who leads the party's fight against corruption, was quoted as saying in the official People's Daily.

"Firmly grasp that not following the party's rules on clean government is a dereliction of duty, never merely focus on business and ignore party rules or only look at development targets and not on punishing corruption," Wang added.

Those who fail to follow these instructions will be held to account, he said.

This year, state-owned companies had to "shoulder the responsibility" for fighting corruption, Wang added.

He did not mention any specific companies or sectors which the government may target.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)


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