Ministry spokesman latest to lose job over accident

Wang Yongping, former spokesman for the Ministry of Railways, takes questions from journalists after a July 24 news conference on the train crash near Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. [Provided to China Daily]

BEIJING – The Ministry of Railways fired its spokesman on Tuesday in a further attempt to clean up its image after a train crash in July killed 40 people, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Wang is the latest official to be fired after a deadly train crash in East China’s Zhejiang province on July 23 killed dozens of passengers, injured at least 200 others and raised concerns about the safety of China’s high-speed trains. 

It is still unknown whether Wang will remain deputy director of the ministry’s political department. 

The 56-year-old veteran railroader, who once said he has “never left the tracks”, was fired after he had infuriated the public with his explanation of why rescue workers had buried train carriages at the crash site. Many said the burials were undertaken to conceal the real causes of the accident. 

“The situation at the rescue site was very complicated,” Wang said at a news conference following the crash. “So the rescuers decided to bury the train’s carriages to make their work easier. Whether you believe (this explanation) or not, I do.” 

Wang again came under severe criticism for saying that the survival of a 2-year-old girl on one of the trains had been a “miracle”. She was only discovered after a police officer had insisted on searching the carriage even though the ministry had allegedly called off the rescue operation and ordered the carriages to be removed with a crane.

Wang Xuming, former spokesman of the Ministry of Education and Wang Yongping’s classmate at a training session for government spokespersons, wrote an open letter about his friend, explicitly criticizing his remarks as being “too emotional and too strong”. 

In his 6,000-word letter, Wang Xuming also said Wang Yongping had been the “top performer” in their training classes and had published a book about being a government spokesman. 

A journalist who is familiar with Wang Yongping told China Daily, on the condition of anonymity, that she believes Wang is a very “dedicated” spokesman. 

“He might be too committed sometimes,” she said. “As a spokesman he has to stand by the ministry, yet he also has to realize the railway ministry serves the public, and he has to put himself in other people’s shoes.” 

Wang is also a productive poet, calligrapher and sculptor. He became the spokesman of the ministry in 2003. He held the first news conference about the train crash more than 24 hours after it had taken place. 

Xin Dingding contributed to this story.

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