On 27 April 2007, the second petty bench of the Supreme Court of Japan dismissed the claims of five Chinese victims of forced labour during the World War II[PDF41KB(Japanese)]. The plaintiffs had filed for 27 million yen in damages from Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd., alleging that they had been forcefully taken to Japan during the war and subjected to hard labour at the construction site of a hydroelectric power plant in Hiroshima Prefecture.
According to The Asahi Shimbun, this is the first case of the wartime abductions for forced labour that was examined by the Supreme Court on merit and resulted in its judgment. The second petty bench stated, "The 1972 Joint Communique of Japan and China is interpreted as providing for the renouncement of all the claims that had been established in the course of the war, including the right of individuals to claim reparations for damages. Thus they had lost entitlements to claim reparations through legal proceedings". In its first decision on this issue, the Supreme Court thus denied the ground for judicial remedies argued by the plaintiffs, concluding that individuals have no rights to seek for reparation by way of lawsuit because the issue of war reparations had been settled by the Japan-China Joint Communique. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also expressed, "Given the fact that the victims have experienced grave sufferings, both mental and physical, and that Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. had benefited from the forced labour, it is expected that the company and other parties concerned make efforts for providing remedies". The plaintiffs had filed suit at the Hiroshima District Court in January 1998, arguing that they had been forcefully taken to Japan around 1944 and was forced to work more than twelve hours a day for the construction of the Yasuno Power Plant at Kake (now Aki-ota) Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, including the construction of the water transmission tunnel.
In the article of The Asahi Shimbun, concern is expressed that, because of the Supreme Court judgment, Chinese plaintiffs would lose in more than twenty pending lawsuits about war reparations, including those by former "comfort women".
The Xinhua News Agency, the state news agency in China, has also shown great interest in the judgment by sending out an urgent news article. According to the Jiji Press, it has been pointed out in the article that the judgment may cause trouble in the Japan-China relationship, which has been improved through Premier Wen Jiabao's recent visit to Japan.
On 26 April, the day before the judgment, Mr. Liu Jianchao, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, emphasized as follows:
"The conscription of the forced Chinese laborers was a grave crime committed by the Japanese militarists during the War of Aggression against China. The Japanese government should treat seriously the court ruling and adopt an honest and responsible attitude to handle the question."
"As a solemn political and diplomatic document signed by the Chinese and Japanese Government, the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement constitutes the political basis of the restoration and development of the post-war Sino-Japanese relations. Neither party should unilaterally interpret the major principle or issues in the document, including judicial interpretation. We request the Japanese side to handle relevant problems in line with the above-mentioned principles."
· The Asahi Shimbun, 27 April 2007, "War-Time Abduction Suit: Former Chinese Workers' Claim Dismissed by Supreme Court" [Japanese]
· Jiji Press, 27 April 2007, "Critical about 'Unilateral Interpretation of Joint Communique': Supreme Court Judgment Flashed by Xinhua News" [Japanese]
· Supreme Court Judgment [PDF 41KB / Japanese]
· "China Demand Proper Handling of Forced Labour Issue to Japanese Government" (China Radio International - Japanese Service, 27 April 2007) [Japanese]
· Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao's Regular Press Conference on 26 April 2007