Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, has developed a reputation in Washington as a Rasputin-like China hawk who whispers anti-China musings in President Donald Trump’s ear.

This week, Washington learned about the mysterious anti-China voice that has long whispered in Navarro’s ear: Ron Vara.

Ron Vara has appeared as a cryptic voice of economic wisdom more than a dozen times in five of Navarro’s 13 books, dispensing musings like “You’ve got to be nuts to eat Chinese food” and “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.”

But Ron Vara, it turns out, does not exist. At least not in corporeal form. He is apparently a figment of Navarro’s imagination — an anagram of Navarro’s surname that the trade adviser created as a Hitchcockian writing device and stuck with as something of an inside joke with himself.

Navarro’s imaginary source surfaced this week when The Chronicle of Higher Education published some of the findings of Tessa Morris-Suzuki, an emeritus professor at Australian National University.

Morris-Suzuki, concerned about Navarro’s statements on China, started digging into his earlier work. She unearthed about a dozen instances when Navarro, previously a business school professor at the University of California, Irvine, had invoked Ron Vara. Curious why she could find no record of such a person, she soon discovered he was not real.


“I think it’s a very strange thing for an academic to do in books that he is presenting as factual,” Morris-Suzuki said in an email. “It might be different if a writer — even a university-based one — were writing something that was obviously lighthearted and comical and in a nonacademic context.”

Navarro holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University. His interests shifted from utility regulation to investment strategy before he latched on to China, becoming a notorious hawk whose anti-China screeds like his book and documentary film “Death by China” caught the eye of Trump.

Ron Vara first appeared in Navarro’s 2001 book, “If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks.” He was described as a Gulf War reservist who, like Navarro, had studied economics at Harvard.

Some of Navarro’s insights in that book are attributed to Ron Vara in later works, Morris-Suzuki said. For instance, Navarro advised in his 2001 book, “Don’t play checkers in a chess world.” That same wisdom is attributed to Ron Vara in “The Well-Timed Strategy” (2006) and “Always a Winner” (2009).

Far from an investing oracle, Ron Vara tended to offer advice in bite-size clichés, such as “Ride the stock market cycle — or be run over,” which appeared in Navarro’s book “When the Market Moves, Will You Be Ready?”

By the time Navarro’s musings turned to China, so did, naturally, those of Ron Vara. In “The Coming China Wars,” a section about China’s “poisoned food chain” warned about toxic Chinese fish being exported to the United States. A quote from Ron Vara drove the point home: “You’ve got to be nuts to eat Chinese food.”


“Death by China,” Navarro’s seminal book, which he wrote with Greg Autry, used a Ron Vara quote to set up a section about how the American eagle had become the world’s biggest pigeon: “The Manufacturing Dragon is voracious. The Colonial Dragon is relentless. The American Eagle is asleep at the wheel.”

A White House spokesman had no comment on Navarro’s work. A spokesman for the University of California, Irvine, declined to weigh in.

“Mr. Navarro is on leave and no longer represents the university, so we do not have a comment,” said Tom Vasich, the university’s director of media relations.

In a statement to The Chronicle, Navarro likened Ron Vara to “Alfred Hitchcock appearing briefly in cameo in his movies” and said it was “refreshing” that someone finally figured out his joke.

The fact that Ron Vara was fake was lost on those who know Navarro, including some who collaborated with him on writings that attributed comments to the fake source.

Glenn Hubbard, who co-wrote “Seeds of Destruction” with him, told The New York Times that he had been unaware of the creative license that Navarro had taken.

Michael Pillsbury, a China scholar at the Hudson Institute who occasionally plays tennis with Navarro, said he hadn’t realized that Navarro had dabbled in fiction.


“I always knew Peter was creative and imaginative, but I badly misunderestimated him,” Pillsbury said.

Navarro declined to elaborate further to The Times. He did, however, invoke his alter-ego once more.

“As Ron Vara might say, ‘Lighten up and have fun reading the books,’” Navarro said in a text message.