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Ministry of Rail spokesperson Wang Yongping dismissed

(Update: see Ray’s comments below. I originally had ‘sacked’ in the title which is probably too harsh given he is reassigned to another post.)
Out of the recent bullet train crash near Wenzhou, I think one of the biggest lessons for the Ministry of Rail is the importance of good PR. Spokesperson Wang Yongping (王勇平) has created many controversies and was subject of a lot of public anger and criticisms. (See here and here.) According to Caixing, Wang Yongping has now been dismissed from his post.

Wang Yongping made many mistakes. One of them was his now infamous “I believe” remark after informing the media that the train head was buried and the reason was to aid rescue operation. I watched the press conference myself, and I believe he was genuinely trying to assure the public based on what information he had at that time. He should have simply said he didn’t know the circumstances why it was buried and that he will provide them at the next press conference. That would have been a much better response rather than “I believe.” Many Chinese netizens criticized him for being ‘arrogant.’ I think he was simply under prepared.

I think Wang Yongping’s dismissal was recognition within the Chinese rail ministry that the spokesperson could do much better.

Bear in mind, China’s railways are in fact very safe. Think of the packed trains and the sea of rail passengers two weeks before every Spring Festival. (See “230 million Chinese hitting the rails for Spring Festival.”) Reader jxie also left this analysis about the relative safety of various nations railway systems:

Here are the stats on deaths per trillion passenger-km, for the 4 countries I computed for, based on the latest commonly available data for the most recent decade:
* France: 21.90
* China: 24.91
* Japan: 45.62
* Germany: 50.44

On a separate note, I was just reading this refutation by the Chinese Embassy in U.K. of an article in the Daily Telegraph suggesting the Chinese economy ‘may even be about to come off the rails entirely.’ Yes, the Daily Telegraph is retarded. Anyways, the Chinese Embassy said:

All accidents may be preventable, but they do unfortunately occur from time to time in different countries. A derailed German bullet train killed 101 people in 1998. The 2002 Potters Bar crash claimed 7 lives, including two Chinese. Japan’s Amagasaki rail accident in 2005 left 107 dead. The recent train crash in China was similarly tragic and devastating. China confronted the disaster head on. Out of a sense of responsibility to the people, the relevant authorities in China are leading an investigation to get to the bottom of the disaster. This will be an open, transparent process leading to a clear and convincing account of what went wrong and the lessons that can be learnt.

However, it would be too early and arbitrary to prejudge the investigations, and use one accident to write off China’s success in railway development, and even blame China’s social system and path of development and conclude that the Chinese economy may derail.

Living in California, I can see how this Daily Telegraph type narrative might affect the currently planned high-speed rail linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. Perhaps a stronger public backlash against a ‘bad China’ might make bids by Chinese companies and cooperation between the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and China’s Ministry of Rail potentially more difficult.

There are in fact many more Boeing and Airbus airplane accidents around the planet, and that doesn’t prevent airplanes from those manufacturers sold. So, perhaps there will not be much material impact to Chinese bullet train manufacturers’ business – as long as there is want around the world for bullet trains.

  1. zack
    August 19th, 2011 at 01:54 | #1

    it would truly be tragic if the doomsayers and sinophobes allowed this accident to impact US-Chinese relations via the californian HSR contract.

    i’ll bet that any motion for Chinese bids to build the californian HSR will be met by citations of this incident as a means of torpedoing the chinese bids; it sinophobia can hamper Huawei’s bids in countries, who’s to say the same won’t happen for CRH?

  2. August 19th, 2011 at 08:13 | #2

    I think using the “sacked” is too harsh a word. From what I ‘ve read he actually got a posting overseas.

  3. August 19th, 2011 at 09:11 | #3

    Agreed, Ray.

  4. Charles Liu
    August 19th, 2011 at 09:58 | #4

    Overseas assignments are usually considered a promotion, as it is only offered to trust worthy people with merit.

  5. August 19th, 2011 at 10:55 | #5

    Truly deserved. Whether you think that China did a good or bad job handling the crash, it’s pretty undeniable that Wang did an awful job as spokesman. Regardless of what perspective you approach it from, he was incompetent and 100% deserved to be shitcanned.

    If he’s posted overseas, I hope they posted him to Antarctica. Although you guys disagree with me on most things, frankly, you should hope the same. He did an absolutely abysmal job of promoting the government’s case.

  6. August 19th, 2011 at 14:09 | #6

    Custer, I think you are judging from the standard of what slick PR is like in the West. China only very recently designated official spokesperson for various government departments.

    This idea of Western style PR function is still relatively new.

    I don’t have such a disrespectful feeling towards Wang Yongping, and I do believe he was genuinely trying to do his job in the capacity he knows how.

    “shitcanned?” Filthy mouth.

    I recall around 2008, then Chinese ambassador to the U.K., Madam Fu Ying, made some remarks that still stuck with me today – and that was China needed to beef up PR capabilities to front the media. Then I recall China starting a training program a year or two ago with foreign consultants.

  7. Charles Liu
    August 19th, 2011 at 14:52 | #7

    Well, Wang is going to Walsall, a beautiful old city in Eastern Europe without demotion in pay grade.

    Anyways, as with most issues, there are diverging opinions on Wang, such as this one from a reporter who’s dealt with Wang over the years:

    The Wang Yongping I know

    “With such cynicism, when straight talk at the halls of government become echos of silence, it will be a tragidy none of us would like to see

    从此甘当犬儒,公门前的直言成为绝响,那将是我们都不愿看到的杯具”

  8. August 19th, 2011 at 14:58 | #8

    “shitcanned” for not able to make sh*t smell good in public.

    Well, I guess that’s the job requirement.

  9. August 20th, 2011 at 00:45 | #9

    yinyang :
    Custer, I think you are judging from the standard of what slick PR is like in the West. China only very recently designated official spokesperson for various government departments.
    This idea of Western style PR function is still relatively new.

    No, it really isn’t. There are plenty of Chinese companies that are just as capable PR managers as any “slick” “Western” PR Firm. “Slick” (also known as competent) is not new to China, it’s just the government that’s terrible at it. And it’s not like it’s some new concept to them either. This isn’t some “Western secret” that was suddenly imported to China a few years ago. They’ve known about PR as long as all these Chinese companies with very competent PR teams; the difference is that the Chinese government hasn’t, until recently, realized they actually need to care about PR now that they can’t control information as easily.

    I don’t have such a disrespectful feeling towards Wang Yongping, and I do believe he was genuinely trying to do his job in the capacity he knows how.

    I’m sure he was doing his best, but the fact is that he still did a terrible job. Not by Western standards, by any standards. Look, you could make me a professional opera singer, and I could try my hardest to succeed, but ultimately I can barely carry a pop tune and if I were to perform in an opera, it would be a spectacular failure.

    Wang was in a tough spot, but that’s part of his job description. If he wasn’t capable of doing it, he should never have been hired for that job in the first place. And, if he wasn’t capable of doing it, he should never have accepted the position either.

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