In response to the backlash, Dai Xu posted: "Now, a group of fake American devils are attacking me", accompanied by a photo of a soldier in attack mode. Photo: SCMP Pictures

A senior military official has caused an outrage among netizens for calling the current avian flu outbreak in mainland China an American conspiracy and belittling a string of deaths from the virus.  

“The national leadership should not pay too much attention to it,” Dai Xu, senior colonel with the People’s Liberation Army’s air force and lecturer at the National Defence University,  wrote on his Sina Weibo micro-blog on Saturday. “Or else, it’ll be like in 2003 with Sars!”

“At that time, America was fighting in Iraq and feared that China would take advantage of the opportunity to take other actions,” he wrote. “This is why they used bio-psychological weapons against China. All of China fell into turmoil and that was exactly what the US wanted. Now, the US is using the same old trick. China should have learned its lesson and should calmly deal with the problem.”

Dai’s post has been shared some 30,000 times over the weekend. While some netizens supported his remarks, most comments were critical. He had deleted an earlier almost identical post that ended with a sentence that caused even more outrage. “Only a few will die, but that’s not even a one-thousandth of those who die in car crashes in China.”
“In that case, the invention of cars by the US and Germany must have been an ever greater conspiracy,” Kai-fu Lee, the former head of Google China and one of the most influential voices on Weibo, quipped in a reply.
“I’m confident that the vast majority of soliders would not endorse this,” Luo Changping, deputy editor of the financial magazine Caijing,  wrote in a reaction on Saturday that has since been shared some 63,000 times. “Mr Dai must step down and apologise to the families of the deceased.” 
Dai was unapologetic in his reply on Sunday. “It is common knowledge that a group of people in China have been injected with mental toxin by the US,” he wrote.
“Now, a group of fake American devils are attacking me,” he wrote in another post. “I will not retreat even half a step.” The senior colonel gained some 40,000 new followers on Weibo in the course of the dispute. He was not available for immediate comment.
Netizens compared Dai’s comment with one made by the outspoken nationalist Peking University Professor Kong Qingdong in 2011. The professor of Chinese literature, who describes himself as the 73rd-generation descendant of Confucius and co-initiator of the Confucius Peace Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, said the US was waging a “climate war" with China, blaming the country for Beijing’s smog.