Colonel Dai Xu of the People’s Liberation Army wrote online that the
new strain of bird flu hitting China, known as H7N9, is an American
“bio-psychological weapon” meant to destabilize China. The rant, posted
to Dai’s account on the Twitter-like service Weibo, had already been
shared by more than 30,000 fellow users by the time that the South China Morning Post reported it on Monday. Dai now has a quarter million followers on Weibo, which is quite a platform.
In general, Chinese Web users appear to have rejected Dai’s argument.
In response to the criticism, though, he’s only dug in. “It is common
knowledge that a group of people in China have been injected with mental
toxin by the U.S.,” he wrote at one point. “I will not retreat even
half a step.” He urged Chinese officials to ignore the virus’s apparent
spread and argued that the disastrous 2003 SARS outbreak was also an
Dai’s conspiracy theory does not appear to be widely held, although
fears about the United States and its supposed secret desire to topple
the Chinese Communist Party are not uncommon among Chinese officials.
He is a lecturer at the National Defence University, giving him a not
insignificant platform for his theories and the worldview behind them.
China’s response to the H7N9 case has prompted concern among public
health experts abroad. Yanzhong Huang of the Council on Foreign
Relations recently argued
that China is doing a much better job than it did with SARS in 2003,
when officials long refused to acknowledged the outbreak and thus
exacerbated its spread. He noted, though, that the government has been
slow in reacting, possibly wary of drawing criticism.
Some Chinese officials, The Washington Post’s William Wan reports,
are telling citizens that a traditional herb made of tree root can
prevent the spread of the new avian flu strain, which certainly does not
appear to be true. Others have suggested acupuncture.
Few if any Chinese officials likely share Dai’s somewhat paranoid
theory that H7N9 is an American weapon. Still, some do appear to share
his desire to downplay the virus, its potential seriousness and the
scale of what would likely be required of the government to address it.
That echo, however slight, of China’s handling of the 2003 SARS outbreak
is not a great sign for Chinese officialdom’s desire to address H7N9 as
completely as possible. But there have been positive signs as well,
likely an indication that a significant number of officials do take the
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