One of China's most influential military strategists has made headlines by saying that a new, lethal strain of bird flu is a "U.S. bio-psychological weapon" conspiracy designed to harm China.
Senior Col. Dai Xu, an air force officer in the People's Liberation Army, has written several best-sellers, mostly on U.S. military strategy toward China, and enjoys a national following. He is a prominent voice inside China on military strategy and national security.
Though many in the West view him as an aberration, Col. Dai is a core member of China's strategic community and his views are backed by a huge following in Chinese military circles.
In accusing the U.S. of "bio-psychological" warfare in the outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu virus in the Shanghai area, Col. Dai offered no evidence to support his scurrilous claims.
But he is not on the fringe of China's mainstream strategic culture: He is a professor at the Chinese National Defense University, the ultimate symbol of China's military establishment. He also directs China's Research Institute of Maritime Security and Cooperation, based in Beijing.
His extremist views about the U.S. are encouraged by China's tightly controlled mainstream media. The official Communist Party Central Committee's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, hosts a special online column for him, as does Global Times, a subsidiary focusing on military and security issues that is packaged for readers in a more popular format.
In addition, Col. Dai frequently appears on national television to rail against what he regards as a multitude of American conspiracies against China.
Col. Dai and his views have an enormous popular following.
In 2010, more than 300,000 Internet users in China voted Col. Dai one of China's nine most popular online opinion-makers. In the same year, the xenophobic anti-American Global Times newspaper ranked him as one of "China's 10 most Outspoken Virtuous Men."
In December 2011, tens of millions Internet users on China's second-most popular Internet portal, Tencent, endorsed the 2010 online voting result and confirmed Col. Dai as one of China's nine most influential "public intellectuals."
Col. Dai himself has a Twitter-like Weibo account that has more than 250,000 followers, giving him the aura of being part of mainstream China's public space on security and defense issues.
His influence also reflects the potency of his message. Analysts say that what makes Col. Dai so influential is his deep, unshakable loathing of the U.S. and his sensational claims of various American conspiracies, grand or petty, against the virtuous and rising China.
To millions of Chinese, Col. Dai is synonymous with the exposure of America's anti-China conspiracies, and he holds a unique place as China's most paranoid conspiracist.
Examples of alleged U.S. conspiracies he supposedly has discovered were revealed in a 2 -hour speech in 2009 called "2030: China Faces the Fate of Dismemberment: The U.S. Strategy for a Global Empire and China's Crisis."
The closed-door speech later appeared on the Internet after it was given to military officers during a meeting at the Nanjing-based PLA Institute of International Relations Studies, a key training ground for elite officers. The conspiracies he outlined include that the United States:
Seeks to reduce the world's population by 20 percent, with the Pentagon plotting to encourage countries on China's periphery to develop nuclear weapons to create a holocaust on China, India and other populous Asian states.
Aims to destroy China's investment in Pakistan in its battle against the Taliban.
Secretly controls 21 of China's 28 industries.
Manufactured the 2008 financial crisis to steal China's and other countries' money.
Is encouraging North Korea to develop nuclear weapons to damage China's role in the region.
Is engaged in short- and long-term plans to foment ethnic riots against China in Tibet and western Xinjiang province.
Wants to trick Russia into launching a nuclear war against China that would destroy both countries and assure a U.S. triumph.
Wants to split up China into smaller states and create alliances with some of them.
Popular as they are, these conspiratorial theories are not accepted by everyone in China. In fact, many Internet users ridicule Col. Dai's fantastical claims. And quite a few Chinese security analysts have privately and quietly expressed disgust and shame toward the senior colonel's scandalous claims to foreign counterparts at international conferences.
Yet not a single serious scholar or strategist inside China's defense establishment has been able or permitted to challenge Col. Dai's conspiracy mania face-to-face on national TV or in mainstream media outside of the Internet.
The reason is that Col. Dai represents views that are encouraged by China's mainstream strategic culture, which is widely viewed as conspiratorial, anti-U.S. and paranoid a culture that does not allow open debate or the free exchange of views that contradict the official party line.
For these reasons, Col. Dai Xu is not on the fringe of China's mainstream. He is the mainstream.
• Miles Yu's column appears Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @yu_miles.