Donald Trump’s top China adviser regularly quotes a made-up expert whose name is an anagram of his own surname, it has emerged.
Peter Navarro, an economist who has written a number of books on China, has employed Ron Vara as a source in at least five of his works, quoting his anti-Beijing views.
At one point Vara is quoted saying “You’ve got to be nuts to eat Chinese food”, at another, he said: “Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel.”
According to Mr Navarro’s 2001 book, If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks, Vara was a captain in a reserve unit during the Gulf War as well as a doctoral student in economics at Harvard University in the US.
In fact, it emerged this week, Vara is simply a figment of Mr Navarro’s imagination. The ruse was revealed by Australian academic Tessa Morris-Suzuki after she was asked to write an article on anti-China a rhetoric for a local politics and foreign affairs blog.
When an online search for Vara threw nothing up, she contacted Harvard and discovered the university had no record of him. She then realised that Ron Vara was an anagram of Navarro and contacted the economist and his associates.
Ms Morris-Suzuki told the Chronicle of Higher Education, which first reported the story, that she took a dim view of quoting fictional characters and was left “wondering whether there might be other invented sources in Navarro’s work”.
She said she has not discovered any, but did find a quote in one book on China credited to Leslie LeBon, whose credentials are not listed in the book. An online search revealed that Ms LeBon is an architect – and also happens to be Ms Navarro’s wife.
Mr Navarro batted away criticism of his Ron Vara character, comparing it to director Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos in his own movies.
It was, he told the Chronicle, "refreshing that somebody finally figured out an inside joke that has been hiding in plain sight for years."
Mr Navarro, a former professor at the University of California, Irvine, is one of the biggest proponents of the US president’s trade war with China. Both the university and the White House declined to comment on the story.
Approached by the New York Times, Mr Navarro said: “As Ron Vara might say, ‘Lighten up and have fun reading the books’”.