An abandoned Japanese chemical weapons store was discovered at Sunwu County in northeastern Heilongjiang Province yesterday.
Covered from head to toe in safety suits, Chinese and Japanese specialists in chemical weapons disposal dug into a northeastern Chinese bean field yesterday in search of deadly remnants from World War II.
The cooperative project is the latest in an ongoing effort to find and remove chemical weapons left behind by Japan's invading army when its 13-year occupation of China ended in 1945.
Diggers believe the site in Heilongjiang Province, part of what was once known as Manchuria, may hold some 500 canisters of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and lewisite -- a fluid that emits poisonous vapors.
A bright sun shone down on the remote site, lying in a field of green soybeans surrounded by forested mountains.
Team members entered a huddle of green military tents to change into their safety suits. The Japanese models were rubberized gray and brown with built-in respirators and badges reading "Abandoned Chemical Weapons." The Chinese wore simpler suits that didn't appear to fully close and attached their respirators separately.
Suited up, they entered a trio of larger tents pitched over the site and worked their way delicately into the rich black soil using picks and shovels. Sandbags were stacked around the base of the tents to guard against leaks and explosions and a surrounding swathe of field 50 meters wide was marked off with rope and white paint.
Japanese officials say about 700,000 chemical weapons remain in China from the Japanese occupation. Only a few will be recovered during the September 5-27 expedition in Heilongjiang's Sunwu County.
Japan's use of chemical and biological weapons during its brutal invasion and occupation of China still stirs anger and resentment among many Chinese, who feel Japan has never fully atoned.
Lawyers for Chinese plaintiffs, who are suing the Japanese government, say leaking chemical weapons have caused some 2,000 deaths since the end of the war.
A Japanese court last week acknowledged for the first time the army's use of biological weapons in China, although it rejected demands for compensation.
(eastday.com September 6, 2002)