Blaming China for the unforced errors of the United States administration is classic distraction technique.

The US administration has been self-centered, clumsy and careless in responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Even with the significant lead time gained from watching the viral disease ravage Wuhan, Hubei province, months before American cities were similarly stricken, the US government dithered.

The White House’s response has been not only slow, doltish and truculent, but also outright counterproductive. Dismissive of experts to the point of being anti-science, and uncooperative with local leaders to the point of stoking regional division, the US administration’s scatterbrained response to the pandemic is indefensible.

“Attack China”, urges an internal memo distributed to US Republicans running for Congress. “Push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.” This is the advice of the “Corona Big Book”, the brainchild of Brett O’Donnell, a Machiavellian strategic adviser to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Released on April 17, the toxic talking points have infected Fox News, Sunday talk shows, Cotton’s press releases, State Department policy pronouncements and presidential tweets.

“Attack China” is a dangerous man-made viral campaign leaked from an unregulated political laboratory that puts partisan politics above domestic well-being and international peace. The hatred and prejudice implicit in the “Corona Big Book” constitute a flagrant neo-McCarthyism. Innuendoes, fabrications and scare tactics are spoon-fed to Republicans seeking to extend their tenuous grip on power.

Enter Mike Pompeo, provincial congressman, former spy chief and now the US’ foremost diplomat who openly admits that “lying, cheating, and stealing” are integral tools of statecraft. Some US politicians’ recent rash of intemperate comments about China, including Pompeo’s provocative use of the derogatory and racist term “China virus” and verbal digs blaming China for letting it “out” of the laboratory echo the “big book” line coming from Pompeo’s office.

But Pompeo has gotten tangled up in a web of his own lies, contradicting himself in TV interviews, saying the virus was from a lab but not from a lab, man-made but not man-made, and then petulantly claiming that “China has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories”.

The US president’s China “experts” Michael Pillsbury, Peter Navarro and Matt Pottinger are working in parallel with Pompeo to punish, humiliate and isolate the very country they are allegedly expert in. Their bigoted and incendiary anti-China rhetoric puts ordinary Asian Americans at risk. Pillsbury alludes to inscrutably secret Chinese plans while Navarro claims on TV that the two countries are at war because Shanghai Disneyland is now open and the one near his home in Anaheim, California, is closed. The US president abruptly ends a White House news conference, refusing to answer the question of a Chinese-American journalist with a withering put-down, telling her to “ask China”.

The blanket stigmatization of China shows signs of interagency coordination, signaling a shift in the White House’s foreign policy, which, until recently, had been obsessed mostly with trade matters.

Aware that relentlessly hitting on China has distinct racial overtones, especially when coming from a cabal of bullies and powerful white men, Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger was trotted out to give a short video presentation in Chinese about the May 4 tradition. Given his previous experience in China as a journalist, he does a competent job of reading Romanized Mandarin for the camera, but he has an axe to grind and is no expert in history.

Pompeo’s Chinese counterparts have largely shown restraint in the face of US provocation and made reasonable pleas to cool the hot rhetoric. Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, firmly maintains that disputes over the origin and spread of the virus are best left to scientists.

The execrable election-year blame game in the US should be exposed for what it is-a sordid spectacle designed to divide and conquer a confused electorate. Pompeo’s neo-McCarthyesque “attack China” campaign is a cheap provocation based on half-truths, innuendoes and lies, a contagion of bad ideas that is best contained before it spirals out of control.

The author is a media researcher covering Asian issues.

The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.