Mitsui payment of compensation after ship seizure could prompt more suits

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 10:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:32am

A Japanese shipping company has paid about three billion yen (HK$227 million) for the release of its ship, ordered seized by a Shanghai court over a wartime commercial dispute, boosting the morale of lawyers and activists who want to sue Japanese entities in Chinese courts.

A statement by the Shanghai court yesterday said Saturday’s order to impound the ship was lifted after the owner of ore carrier Baosteel Emotion, Mitsui OSK, paid 2.9 billion Japanese yen in compensation and 2.4 million yuan (HK$3 million) in litigation fees.

Lin Xiaoguang, an international relations expert at the Central Party School, said the Chinese government would not demand wartime reparations from Japan, as agreed when diplomatic relations were re-established in 1972.

“But we can see that the courts are more willing to accept these [civil] cases,” he said. “They [courts] usually did not when bilateral ties were good.”

Li Yiqiang, secretary general of the World Chinese Alliance in Defence of the Diaoyu Islands, said the group was considering suing Japan in Chinese courts because its vessels had been seized or damaged. The Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are also claimed by Japan, which calls them the Senkaku Islands.

“The Shanghai court ruling is encouraging. We are considering taking two cases to local courts,” Li said, without giving details.

In February, a court in Beijing for the first time accepted a lawsuit against two Japanese companies brought by 40 Chinese people who were forced into labour during the war.

Kang Jian, a lawyer working on the case, said the suit focused on the mental suffering the labour had caused, noting that it was not a contractual dispute, but the Shanghai court ruling was still important. “The Shanghai case shows Japanese companies have to abide by Chinese court decisions or they will face other court orders,” he said.