A spate of fatal accidents this month has cast a pall over the upcoming 18th party congress, when the nation will name its leaders for the next decade, according to an unusual commentary by Xinhua.
The article, published by Xinhua's English service on Tuesday and titled "Multiple accidents test CPC's governability", described August as a "bloody" month. It cited Sunday's highway collision and explosion near Yanan , Shaanxi province that killed 36 passengers when their bus ran into a tanker carrying highly combustible methanol, and last week's collapse of a bridge section in the northeastern city of Harbin that killed three.
"For much of the general public, the more fatal accidents occur, the greater the government's credibility is undermined," the commentary said.
"In the worst-case scenario, the government's failure to minimise deadly man-made accidents will mean that it loses the people's trust, which may prove to be the biggest challenge for the CPC when more than 2,000 delegates from across the country convene later this year to draw up the road map for the future of the party and the country."
The commentary highlighted a difference of opinion among state media on the mainland, in such a politically uncertain and sensitive period before the power shift, according to someone familiar with the nation's propaganda machine.
Professor Zhan Jiang , who teaches journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said yesterday that the Xinhua commentary was "abnormal".
In the lead-up to the party congress, state media has been asked to toe the line and glorify the party's rule to minimise discontent and create a "harmonious atmosphere" for the power shift, but some critical opinions do make it to print, Zhan said.
"State media, such as Xinhua and the People's Daily, have become more liberal recently. Various opinions can be expressed as long as they are backed by a powerful political faction. We call it limited diversity."
Zhan said Xinhua's English service may also be subjected to less censorship.
Xinhua published a similar commentary in Chinese, but that version did not question the government's credibility, nor did it mention the congress.
Zhang Lifan , a political affairs analyst formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the commentary also revealed a lack of confidence within the Communist Party.
He said that, as government officials at all levels have been told to make the party congress their top concern, many issues, such as construction quality, transport and food safety had been ignored, leading to an increase in accidents in recent weeks.
"They are giving abnormal priority to a normal power shift, and that is a sign that confidence is lacking," he said.