This past weekend’s explosive vaccine scandal, when it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of substandard vaccines produced by Changchun Changsheng had been released into the market, has severely damaged the credibility of China’s State Drug Administration (SDA). In response, the agency dispatched its deputy director, Xu Jinghe 徐景和, to Monday evening’s CCTV News Broadcast (新闻联播 xīnwén liánbō), China’s most-watched news program, presumably to address widespread concerns, issue assurances, and assuage public anxiety and anger.
His brief appearance, however, accomplished nothing but create more obstacles for the government as it tries to restore public confidence.
According to an analysis written by Weibo user @一个有点理想的记者, a Beijing-based media expert, Xu’s first problem was his utterly inappropriate choice of outfit: a polo shirt with a prominent Burberry logo. Xu broke a longstanding unwritten rule among senior Chinese officials, who are not supposed to display any commercial insignias in public, least of all the logo of a foreign luxury brand like Burberry. “I’m impressed by Xu’s boldness because he is probably the first senior leader to wear a top with such a blatant luxury brand logo on CCTV News Broadcast,” the media professional said.
Meanwhile, the way Xu delivered his response was stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable to watch. In a segment that lasted less than 30 seconds, Xu never once looked at the camera. He delivered his remarks while looking at a disembodied reporter off camera left, almost certainly reading off a piece of paper. His sentences were long-winded and convoluted, giving an impression of indifference and inauthenticity.
It’s been found that the company fabricated records of production and product testing. It also arbitrarily changed process parameters and equipments. These acts constituted a serious violation of China’s drug administration laws and relevant regulations of pharmaceutical production quality management. SDA has ordered the enterprise to stop production, revoked its drug gmp certificate, and recalled the unused rabies vaccines. SDA and its provincial bureau in Jiling have filed an investigation into the company. Those suspected of committing a crime will be transferred to law enforcement agencies for criminal liabilities.
“It’s quite common for government officials to read scripts in TV interviews for the sake of accuracy and consistency,” @一个有点理想的记者 commented. “But for highly controversial incidents like this, Xu sounds so scripted that the whole interview is a failure.”
On Chinese internet, many people have joined @一个有点理想的记者 in questioning Xu’s sincerity, criticizing him for not taking the interview seriously, given that these mistakes could have been avoided. “It’s clear that he didn’t even bother to fake it because he doesn’t remotely care about actually fixing these problems,” one Weibo user wrote.
After years of high-profile scandals involving the SDA, the administration’s credibility is shot. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the agency to pave over its shattered public image. Xu’s recent interview was a bad start.