The members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China have been engaged in discussions on a potential code of conduct (COC) to manage the South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes for over two decades. Finding mutually-agreeable compromises will be difficult but not impossible if all sides are committed to the project.
The international legal obligation to cooperate on fisheries management and the environment is matched by practical necessity. Communities all around the South China Sea are highly dependent on fish stocks for both food security and local livelihoods. Yet the region has seen catch rates plummet in recent years thanks to a combination of overfishing and willful environmental destruction.