HomeUncategorizedChina Lawsuit over 'Comfort Women' Against Japan

China Lawsuit over ‘Comfort Women’ Against Japan

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China is actively engaged in a historic legal effort to address and rectify a profound injustice from World War II. The children of 18 deceased former Chinese comfort women have filed a landmark lawsuit against Tokyo in the high court of China’s Shanxi province. The plaintiffs seek financial compensation of up to two million yuan (approximately A$416,000) each and a formal public apology for the severe abuses their mothers endured. These abuses included kidnapping, detention, rape, torture, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Historical Background

The term “comfort women” refers to the thousands of women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. These women endured unimaginable suffering. For example, the late Zhang Xiantu recounted that in March 1941, seven or eight Japanese soldiers entered her home and raped her for several hours until she was bleeding. Zhang was just 15 years old at the time. Another victim, Zhao Runmei, was raped after witnessing the brutal murder of her neighbor and foster parents.

For many years, the plight of China’s comfort women was largely overlooked, overshadowed by the more widely recognized suffering of South Korean comfort women. This changed after Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated in 2014, leading to a surge of nationalism in China. The Chinese government began actively condemning Japanese wartime sexual violence and including the comfort women’s stories in the nation’s collective memory.

The Lawsuit and Its Significance

The lawsuit filed in Shanxi is the first of its kind in China and represents a significant step in the global effort to seek justice for wartime sexual slavery victims. Jia Fangyi, the lawyer representing the families, explained that the lawsuit was inspired by a recent precedent in South Korea. In late 2023, the Seoul High Court ordered the Japanese government to compensate comfort women plaintiffs, ruling that a state is not entitled to immunity for unlawful acts committed against citizens of that country within its territory.

The outcome of the Shanxi lawsuit could have profound legal implications for future compensation cases. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could set a precedent that leads to a wave of similar lawsuits in Chinese courts, further holding Japan accountable for its wartime atrocities.

Challenges and Legal Complexities

Despite the potential for a landmark ruling, legal experts anticipate significant challenges. Transnational litigation is inherently complex and can be lengthy, particularly given the strained relationship between China and Japan. The Shanxi high court’s decision could take years, and there are uncertainties regarding how Chinese courts will navigate the legal nuances, such as the principle of sovereign immunity.

Kang Jian, a Beijing-based lawyer involved in similar suits since 1995, noted that while the newly adopted Foreign State Immunity Law in China limits sovereign immunity in cases of commercial activities, it does not clearly address wartime acts. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether Chinese courts will follow the South Korean precedent.

Nationalism and Historical Memory

The pursuit of justice for China’s comfort women is deeply entwined with nationalism and historical memory. The Chinese government has used the comfort women issue to bolster national identity and condemn Japan’s wartime actions. This has led to the inclusion of comfort women in memorials and international recognition efforts, such as the UNESCO Memory of the World program.

However, there are limitations to this state-driven nationalism. It can marginalize non-conforming narratives and overshadow the primary issue of sexual violence. Moreover, it can instrumentalize the memories of victims for political purposes, as seen in China’s applications for UNESCO recognition of the comfort women’s experiences in collaboration with other countries with similar histories of sexual abuse.

ACZ Editor: While the women are certainly owed compensation for the tragic position they were in, there are political implications as well, that the Chinese Communist Party is likely playing. An effort to embarrass Japan as other issues are being negotiated is a typical play by the CCP. We hate to be cynical, but we are…

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