船舶差し押さえ 日中共同声明の精神が揺らぐ

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:03 pm, April 22, 2014
Chinese seizure of Japanese vessel undermines spirit of 1972 statement
船舶差し押さえ 日中共同声明の精神が揺らぐ

The seizure of a Japanese ship is an unprecedented exercise of Chinese public authority against a private Japanese firm. The action will lead to a further deterioration in Japan-China relations, while the Xi administration has been stepping up pressure on Japan over history issues.

The Shanghai Maritime Court announced Saturday it had impounded a large vessel owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, which was berthed at a Zhejiang Province port, in connection with a lawsuit over a ship leasing contract dating back to 1936.

The Chinese judiciary is under the control of the Communist Party, so it is possible that the seizure reflects the will of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration.

The lawsuit was filed in 1988 by two grandchildren of the founder of a Chinese shipping company, and calls for the payment of fees for two freighters leased to a predecessor of Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and additional compensation for the ships, which eventually sank.

A ruling on the case became final in December 2010, when an appellate court upheld a 2007 decision, ordering Mitsui to pay more than ¥2.9 billion.

The Chinese court impounded the ship, leased by Mitsui to a Chinese steelmaking company, arguing that Mitsui failed to comply with the order to settle unpaid bills and pay compensation.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the seizure had no connection with the issue of war reparations.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denounced the Chinese action as “extremely regrettable” and said the seizure “would undermine the spirit at the heart of the 1972 Japan-China joint statement that established the normalization of bilateral relations.”

We are inclined to agree.

Claims renounced

In the 1972 joint statement, China agreed to renounce demands for war reparations from Japan. The Chinese side essentially put a lid on demands by Chinese citizens for war reparations.

Over the years, Japan has provided more than ¥3 trillion in loans to promote and sustain Chinese economic development, and Japan continues provision of grant assistance to poorer regions of China today. Japanese companies have made substantial contributions to the country through investment in and technological cooperation with China as well.

The Chinese government has not made sufficient efforts to spread awareness of these Japanese contributions in the country.

The Xi administration has been ratcheting up its anti-Japan propaganda campaign over historical perceptions since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December.

What prompted Chinese authorities to seize a Japanese ship more than three years after the court’s decision was finalized? Given its timing, it is possible to see the move as a ploy by Beijing to pressure Japan ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo.

Suga expressed concern over the Chinese action, saying that it “could intimidate Japanese firms” planning to expand business in China.

Amid declining Japanese investments in China, any increase in the perceived risk of Chinese investment will likely come as a blow not only to Japan, but also to China, whose economic growth has been slowing.

A succession of lawsuits filed by Chinese who claimed they or members of their families were forced to work at Japanese factories during the war have called for Japanese firms to pay compensation. In light of this most recent move, many fear further seizures of the assets of Japanese firms.

The Xi administration must reaffirm mutual benefit as the heart of Japan-China relations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2014)

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