BEIJING, July 4 -- At a time of heightened tension in the South China Sea, Washington and its allies have launched publicity campaigns against China, repeatedly using the "bully" tag to refer to China and its activities in the region.
The groundless accusation, however, has been refuted by experts, who pointed to the fact that China has never bullied any country in South China Sea disputes. Instead, it has exercised restraint to the greatest extent possible over this issue.
CHINA: NOT A BULLY, BUT A VICTIM
"China has never bullied the smaller claimants on the South China Sea issue," said Xu Liping, a senior research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Instead, it turns to safeguarding its sovereignty through the international rules and relative laws," Xu said.
The expert stressed that, instead of being a bully, China is actually the biggest victim in South China Sea disputes.
"China has never exerted its strengths to change the regional status quo, and its infrastructure construction has been carried out on its own islands instead of grabbing others," said Xu.
As many experts have observed, China has all along stood for peaceful settlement of territorial disputes through negotiation. It has dealt with the South China Sea issue in a constructive way, and always kept the doors for dialogue open.
However, without prior notice or exchanges, the Philippinesfiled for international arbitration over its disputes with China.
"The tribunal case regarding this case will only complicate and internationalize the South China Sea issue, which will forge a blatant betrayal of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2002," Xu said.
Ever since its initiation of the arbitration in early 2013 in the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Manila has closed the door for negotiation and has taken a series of provocative moves that infringed upon China's legitimate rights and interests.
Solely in March, the Philippines allowed the United Statesto have military access to five bases near the disputed waters with China under the renewed defense pact with Washington. It also leased military aircraft from Japanand obtained fighters and surveillance radars from South Korea.
According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Philippine military planes blatantly violated the airspace above the reefs of China's Nansha Islands for more than 50 times in 2015 alone.
"Is it how a big country bullies the smaller countries? Or is it the opposite?" Wang said in February in Washington.
In the interests of peace and stability in the region, China has exercised the utmost restraint, but nobody should doubt China's will to safeguard its core interests.
As a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry put it, "China will never bully small countries, but we will in no way tolerate a small country making up excuses and hurting China's interests."
U.S.: A INVISIBLE HAND BEHIND SOUTH CHINA SEA
In some Western media reports on the South China Sea issue, China has often been described as a restless empire "bullying" smaller countries, "militarizing" the South China Sea, sabotaging "freedom of navigation" and challenging international law.
The intention behind such publicity campaign is to make China the scapegoat for the tense situation in the South China Sea region, said some experts, who pointed to the fact that the United States, in a very real sense, has been the invisible hand behind the rising tension in the South China Sea.
The heightened tension in the region is not an isolated incident but the result of the U.S. "pivot to Asia" policy, University of Houston Downtown Associate Professor Peter Li told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"To the United States, East Asia in particular occupies a strategic position in American foreign policy. However, we have to understand that the U.S. foreign policy has always been based on a shrewd calculation of the American national interest," he said.
"For example, in 1947, it was the United States that assisted the Chinese government in its recovery of the South China Sea islands. Yet, today, the United States has apparently changed its position. The change of the position, based on a new understanding of the situation in East Asia and the rising strength of China, does send a clear message to countries having territorial disputes with China, such as the Philippines," he said.
The process of strengthening the existing relationships has apparently given Manila the signal that its actions in the South China Sea are backed by the United States.
Boosting its alliance with the allies in the region, strengthening new relations with ASEAN countries, and consolidating existing security ties serve Washington's strategic objective of neutralizing China's position in the region, Li said.
"To the United States, China could be pulled into extended conflicts. Resources would have to be diverted to military preparations, affecting people's livelihood," he said.
Li said the U.S. naval actions in the region have sent a clear message to the parties involved in the disputes that Washington has a position at odds with China.
"In my opinion, the United States' taking sides in the conflict in the South China Sea both serves and undermines America's objectives," he said.
Shannon Ebrahim, a well-known South African commentator, wrote in a recent article that the more one delves into the reality of the South China Sea issue, clearer it becomes that the United States actually thinks it has a right to manipulate regional dynamics in China's backyard so as to encircle it as a rising superpower.
"In a very real sense the U.S. has been the invisible hand behind the rising tension, conducting joint naval exercises with claimants, orchestrating confrontational incidents with Chinese naval vessels, and even giving partial recognition to the Philippines' unilateral renaming of the South China Sea to the West Philippines Sea," she said in a commentary published in The Star newspaper in late May.
Referring to the U.S. concern of freedom of navigation, Ebrahim said, "China is equally committed to this principle, and has never attempted to hinder trade navigation in any way."
"In this case, China has international law on its side," she said.
"Despite attempts by neighboring countries to encroach onto the islands and take them over, China has proof of its sovereignty over them, going back centuries," Ebrahim wrote.