Mitsubishi’s apology to American POWs disappoints Asian neighbors

By Wang Wenwen Published: 2015-7-20 21:36:52

Mitsubishi has become the first major Japanese company to apologize for using US prisoners of war as forced labor during World War II, a move hailed by Western media as “historic” and “landmark.”

Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, made the apology on behalf of its predecessor, Mitsubishi Mining Co, at a ceremony in Los Angeles Sunday. According to media reports, about 12,000 American POWs were shipped to Japan and forced to work for private companies to fill a wartime labor shortage, and 10 percent died. This contrition came 70 years later for most victims, as few living survivors can be located nowadays.

It is unclear what prompted this apology, but it has a strong American factor as it came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed through his controversial security bills to pass by the lower house of parliament. The bills will extend Japan’s defense options by allowing troops to fight abroad for the first time since WWII and emphasize an increasingly global role for US-Japan alliance.

Asian people understandably reacted to the news with strong disappointment, especially those in China and South Korea. Imperial Japan made extensive use of forced labor, not only American and other POWs, but also Chinese and Koreans. However, the Japanese government and corporations are dealing with wartime forced labor issue differently between its US ally and Asian neighbors.

During the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, at least 700,000 young Koreans became forced laborers of Japanese companies. And during WWII, more than 34,000 Chinese were forcefully exported to Japan to aid the country’s wartime efforts. The miserable life experience of these forced laborers is the epitome of the grave disaster brought by Japan’s militarism to the Asian countries.

Chinese and South Korean forced labor victims and their bereaved families have relentlessly filed lawsuits against Japanese companies involved in such war crimes. In one recent case, some 1,004 Korean forced labor survivors and family members sued 60 Japanese firms in April for unpaid wages and damages. Last year, 37 plaintiffs from China who were forced into labor, filed a case seeking compensation from Japanese firms, including Mitsubishi Materials.

However, Japanese companies have insisted that individual damages claims were resolved through an inter-governmental agreement, while the victims said their right to claim damages must be addressed via individual companies.

Kimura reportedly declined to comment on the lawsuit filed by Chinese citizens at the Sunday ceremony. Now that he has made an apology to US POWs, it remains to be seen when the company will extend its contrition to Chinese and South Korean victims. 

Since the Abe administration took office, Tokyo has been showing less room for compromise when dealing with China or South Korea on historical issues. Mitsubishi’s apology to American POW, coming at less than one month before Abe will give his speech on Japan’s war history, has angered public in neighboring countries. For those victims in Asia who are getting frailer by the day, will they ever receive an apology from Mitsubishi?

Posted in: Observer

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