(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.