More cases against Japan are likely to be filed in Chinese courts following a Shanghai court's order to impound a ship linked to a wartime contractual dispute, observers say.
The impounding order against a Japanese bulk iron ore carrier belonging to Mitsui OSK Lines on Saturday could further strain Sino-Japanese ties already bruised by territorial conflicts in the East China Sea and disputes over their wartime history, they say.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the seizure, part of a wartime compensation lawsuit, as regrettable.
"The case may shake the spirit of the 1972 joint declaration made when Japan and China normalised diplomatic relations," he said.
The declaration stipulated that China renounced its demand for war reparations from Japan.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the case was merely an "ordinary commercial dispute".
"The case has nothing to do with post-war compensation," he said yesterday. "China's position in upholding the principle of the Sino-Japanese declaration has not changed."
The case is one of a string of lawsuits relating to wartime grievances that have been filed in China.
One of them, which concerns 37 people who were forcibly removed to Japan during the war, was filed in a Beijing court in February.
Su Zhiliang , a professor at Shanghai Normal University who has researched the plight of wartime sex slaves, known in Japan as "comfort women", said he would consider helping the women file suits through Chinese courts.
"We filed suits with Japanese courts in past years but were turned down," Su said. "Many of the victims are now very old, and they want to see justice being done."
Professor Lian Degui , of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said courts at local level would be given more responsibility to handle Chinese grievances against Japan.
"It is not very appropriate for senior Chinese officials to demand compensation," he said. "But ordinary people can file their cases at these courts. There will be more civil lawsuits against Japan if Sino-Japanese ties remain strained."
In another development, Qin of the Foreign Ministry said China had expressed its disappointment to Japan after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to the Yasukuni war shrine yesterday. Cabinet secretary Suga said Abe had made his offering as a private individual.
Two members of Abe's cabinet have already visited the shrine ahead of today's spring festival.