$1.2b sought in war lawsuit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 1995, 12:00am

A LANDMARK case on seeking wartime reparations from Japan involving the alleged loss of two Chinese ships during World War II opened in Shanghai yesterday.

The Shanghai Maritime Court is hearing the claims of representatives of the Chung Wei Steamship Company, which in 1936 leased two vessels to a Japanese shipping firm then known in Chinese as Datong.

Datong merged with another company to form Navix Line, which is the defendant in the US$160 million (about HK$1.24 billion) lawsuit.

Scholars of wartime indemnities said yesterday that if Chung Wei, which relocated to Hong Kong in the 1950s, was successful, the case could precipitate other legal proceedings against the Japanese Government and companies.

The representatives of Chung Wei are the grandchildren of Chen Shuntong, the firm's boss who loaned two ships - the Shunfeng and the New Peace - on a short-term lease to Datong.

They alleged that after war was declared between China and Japan in 1937, the Japanese company 'took over' the two vessels.

In 1947, Chen was told that the Shunfeng had sunk after being hit by a torpedo in the East China Sea in 1944, and the New Peace had been wrecked upon a reef near Japan in 1938.

It was alleged that, putting responsibility on the wartime Japanese government, Datong refused indemnity claims by Chen, who died in Shanghai in 1949.

His son, Chen Qiaqun, who died in 1992, had pursued the case in Japan and China.

Sources close to Chung Wei said that Beijing was less than enthusiastic about the case, as it had dropped its wartime claims against Tokyo when it normalised ties.