A Shanghai court has seized a large Japanese shipping vessel at port in Zhejiang, as part of an ongoing reparations dispute concerning two Chinese ships sunk during World War II. Time may heal some wounds, but eighty-year-old shipping arguments between China and Japan are not one of them.
The case’s history gets a little weird: In the 1930’s, two Chinese ships were leased from Chung Wei Steamship Company to a Japanese shipping firm. After war broke out, the ships were sunk, and China has been looking for reparations ever since. A chief problem is that the Japanese shipping firm of the 1930’s has since merged with a new company, which then merged with another new company, leaving fairly little trace of the original agreement. Furthermore, the owners of Chung Wei Steamship have all passed away in the last 4/5ths of a century, leaving us in a state where the grandkids of the company’s owners are battling a company that absorbed a company that absorbed a company that made the shipping deal.
It may not look like an airtight case, but the Chinese Supreme People’s court came out in favor of the Chinese plaintiffs (no way!) to the tune of US$160 million, which the Japanese company has refused to pay in 2011. Now, with their ship held in port, the Japanese firm must pay up or lose the vessel, neither of which sound like particularly satisfying options.