More than 700 families of forced laborers that toiled for Japan during World War II are suing the corporations responsible en masse, seeking millions in redress, a public apology, and a monument to those forced into labor by Japan in the 1930s and 1940s.
Reuters reports that the suit is “possibly the biggest class-action suit in Chinese legal history,” and the Chinese government would be sending a strong anti-Japanese message should it let the case go through. More than 700 plaintiffs are involved, with at least 940 individuals involved counting both the survivors of wartime forced labor and their relatives.
They seek at least 865 million yuan in redress, which would total to more than 100 million US dollars. They also seek the publication of apologies in both Chinese and Japanese newspapers and a monument to those who were abducted into virtual slavery by the Japanese. As more than 40,000 men are estimated to have been forced out of China and into Japan to work in mines after Japan invaded China in 1937, the number of plaintiffs may yet increase.
As for defendants, Reuters notes that major corporations like Mitsubishi Corp. and Yantai Mitsubishi Cement Co. are involved in the suit. While China has thrown similar cases away in the past, some suggest that the delicate relationship between Japan and China at the moment could tempt China to exacerbate tensions by allowing this suit.
The victims of such WWII atrocities have strived to bring cases like this to court in the past. In February, for example, 37 plaintiffs filed suit against Mitsubishi Materials and Nippon Coke and Engineering, among others, in China, and the BBC reported that many believed the court likely to accept the case. As the number of similar lawsuits has grown, South Korean plaintiffs that won redress from Japanese corporations for the same crimes reportedly joined efforts to help Chinese plaintiffs with their case.
This collaboration was unique to the two countries, which have a complex relationship thanks to their very different relationships with their mutual neighbor, North Korea. South Korea has taken the initiative on seeking remorse from the Japanese government for crimes committed during WWII, however, and is currently scheduling talks with the Japanese government about the extremely sensitive topic of wartime “comfort women” forced into sex slavery by the Japanese.
China has become increasingly aggressive in calling for the Japanese government and corporate entities to take responsibility for their actions in World War II. In April, China seized a Japanese ship in Shanghai over a war debt owed by the corporation owning the ship incurred in the 1930s. That case has many suggesting that the Chinese courts are ready to hear forced laborer cases in ways they were not previously.
Courts are currently mulling over whether to permit the class action suit to go forward against Japanese corporations. Their decision is not guaranteed in favor of either party, but permitting the suit to go forward may further complicate the relationships between the two nations, and embolden other parties to seek redress, as well.