China must compensate for dairy scandal

By Paul Lin 林保華

Monday, Oct 06, 2008, Page 8
Two groups of people have suffered as a result of melamine-tainted Chinese milk powder — those who consumed the milk and other related products and employees and business owners of related industries.

The first group includes those who have suffered physical harm. The second group consists of owners and employees of firms that purchased contaminated powder for use in their products and then had to take them off the shelves. These businesses have incurred financial losses and the scandal has tarnished their reputations. There are also other manufacturers whose products do not contain tainted milk but who have still suffered because many consumers remain afraid of buying dairy products.

Only a few people in Taiwan have had their health directly affected by the tainted milk and they can seek compensation from the Department of Health. The department, however, has no reason to use taxpayer money to pay compensation for milk powder-related business problems. The government should claim compensation from the Chinese government on behalf of all Taiwanese victims.

Taiwanese manufacturers and retailers have recalled and destroyed products that contain milk imported from China. These businesses have lost orders and their reputations have been damaged. They should also be entitled to seek compensation. However, companies doing business with China may fear retribution if they try to directly claim compensation from the Chinese government. Therefore, our government has a responsibility to represent these companies in dealing with China.

A number of foreign companies with established brands have been spending money on advertisements to say that their products are free of tainted milk powder. This shows that even these famous firms have suffered losses from the milk debacle. Chain stores and street vendors who sell products containing milk have been doing likewise, putting up signs to say that their goods do not contain Chinese milk powder. Some of them are even trying to attract customers with special deals. Their businesses have clearly taken a turn for the worse and so they too have a right to ask for compensation.

Taiwan sent a delegation to China to deal with the tainted milk affair, but its mission was to listen to official explanations, not to raise compensation claims. However, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) will soon visit Taiwan. As the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to visit Taiwan, Chen is the right person to approach with compensation claims. The Democratic Progressive Party and some non-governmental organizations are planning to hold demonstrations when he visits Taiwan. They could make compensation one of their main demands.

Pressing Chen would have two benefits. First, it would show that Taiwan is not a mere appendage or slave of China. Second, it would show that Taiwan’s political parties and groups are concerned with public welfare. A strong response from these groups would give the government strong backing in requesting compensation from China. We should request reasonable compensation, or even for less than what is fair in the interests of improving cross-strait relations.

Considering the massive profits made by state-owned Chinese companies and Beijing’s huge tax revenues, China can and must pay the price to avoid further damage to its image.

The WTO and WHO should assist China in compensating the victims of tainted milk powder. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) should give priority to helping China clean up this mess.


Paul Lin is a political commentator.

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