Mitsubishi rep excuses labor issue

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Mitsubishi rep excuses labor issue

In a Monday contribution to the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun, an outside director of the Japanese corporation that recently issued an apology to American POWs over its use of forced labor during World War II wrote that the Korean workers conscripted at the time were “highly different in nature.”

The publication came just three days after Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported that Mitsubishi Materials planned to financially compensate the Chinese laborers forced into slavery in Japanese mines during the war.

Korean nationals were not included. Yukio Okamoto’s statement on Monday coincides with an earlier comment the former diplomat made Wednesday during a press conference with foreign media in Tokyo, in which he said that although “Koreans were also forced to work … [their] legal situations are different” because Korea was colonized by Japan in the early 20th century, technically making them Japanese citizens.

Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Citing sources familiar with company issues, Kyodo recently reported that the successor to Mitsubishi Mining plans to offer some $16,000 to each of the 3,765 Chinese workers, the first time a Japanese company has agreed to apologize and monetarily compensate China’s wartime laborers.

Whether the victims will accept the offer remains to be seen.

About 40 former Chinese workers who survived the Japanese mines filed a lawsuit last year with a Chinese court against Mitsubishi Materials and another Japanese company, requesting some 174 million won ($148,865) in compensation for each plaintiff. The company regards the issue involving the Chinese laborers during World War II as “similar” to that involving American POWs, Okamoto said via the Sankei Shimbun, adding that it was not “easy” to resolve that issue, however, because unlike their U.S. counterparts, the Chinese survivors requested financial compensation.

Although the demand is what complicates the situation, the company insider was quoted as saying that Mitsubishi Materials finds it “impossible” to handle the case with a lack of sincerity, hinting that the construction company would push forward in its attempt to ease relations between the two Asian superpowers.

The Korean government responded to the latest news by urging Mitsubishi to “take steps” that would heal the psychological wounds of the victims forced into labor during World War II, stating that postwar measures are “rightly due.”

On July 19, Mitsubishi Materials apologized to American POWs at a ceremony held at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, one of the few times - if not the first - that a major Japanese company has expressed remorse for its wartime crimes.

“As the company that succeeded Mitsubishi Mining, we cannot help but feel a deep sense of ethical responsibility for this past tragedy,” Hikaru Kimura, a senior executive from Mitsubishi Materials, said to James Murphy, a 94-year-old World War II veteran.

The company offers its “remorseful apology” to the approximately 900 American POWs who were “subjected to severe hardship” while forced to work in Mitsubishi’s mines and industrial plants, the executive continued.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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