MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- China will help foreign companies that claim compensation from exporters of milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, a senior Chinese official said Friday.
Liu Qian, China's deputy health minister, said claims should first be resolved on a business-to-business level, but that China was ready to provide assistance through diplomatic channels if claimants encounter problems.
"The Chinese government will provide all necessary assistance," he said at a news conference following a meeting with Asian health ministers. "We're going to urge all our problematic companies to follow the market rule and the legal procedure to solve this problem."
His assurance came amid statements from countries like the Philippines -- which has found at least three melamine-contaminated Chinese milk products -- that they will take up with China any possible local claims for compensation as a result of the entry of tainted milk products. No claims have been filed so far.
A statement at the end of the meeting of health ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their partners from China, Japan and South Korea, said the officials agreed that melamine should never be added deliberately to any food product.
Liu Qian said melamine was deliberately added to fresh milk used to make infant formula, and China immediately released the information to the public and international organizations when it was discovered.
"We have put the culprits into justice and hold the relevant companies, regulatory authorities and the local government officials accountable," he said.
He said China instituted stringent measures to screen and recall all tainted milk products so "all the milk in the market are safe."
Its food exports have suffered since milk and dairy products laced with melamine were linked to the deaths of four babies and the sickening of more than 54,000 others in China. More than 30 countries, including those in Southeast Asia, have banned, recalled or found contamination in Chinese dairy products.
The Asian ministers also welcomed a move to mount a regional initiative to bring together health, trade and other policy-makers in the region to address the negative impact of trade liberalization on health.