Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials Corp. has agreed to apologise and compensate Chinese slaves it used during World War Two, becoming the first Japanese company to do so.

The Japanese building materials manufacturer is set to offer RMB100,000 (HK$124,811) each to 3,765 Chinese people who worked on construction sites and coal mines owned by the company’s wartime predecessor, Mitsubishi Mining Co., according to the Kyodo news agency on Thursday.

mitsubishi apology
Historical image showing Chinese wartime slaves. Photo: Beijing Evening News.

Among the 3,765, only about 1,500 and their families have been found and fewer than 20 are still alive today.

Mitsubishi Materials will dedicate 200 million yen towards searching for the missing victims and their families, Kyodo said.

A formal agreement, in which Mitsubishi Materials will express “deep remorse” and “sincere apologies”, will be signed in Beijing in the near future, according to Kyodo. The agreement will settle negotiations which began in 2014 between the company and a Chinese group which represented wartime victims.

The deal came after the company apologised to its American wartime labourers on Sunday. On Monday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua urged Mitsubishi Materials to stop its “selective apologies” and apologise to victims from other countries as well.

Nearly 40,000 Chinese were taken to Japan to work as slaves for Japanese companies between 1943 and 1945. So far, only Mitsubishi Materials has apologised. The Japanese Supreme Court rejected compensation claims by Chinese wartime victims in 2007, saying their right to seek compensation was renounced in a 1972 Sino-Japanese joint statement which normalised the two countries’ diplomatic ties.

mitsubishi apology
87-year-old Chinese Li Tie-chui, a survivor of wartime forced labour in Japan, walks among traditional Chinese black shoes which were symbols of slaves. Photo: Beijing Evening News.

News of the apology and compensation was received positively by Chinese netizens on social media platform Weibo. Some said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should learn from the Mitsubishi executives. However, some pointed out that the ruling Communist Party has never apologised for atrocities it incurred at home during the 1959-1961 Great Famine and 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.