International Law Studies


For over twenty years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has stonewalled efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct that would form the basis for a peaceful and durable solution to the territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea (SCS). At the same time, the PRC engaged in a series of malign activities, to include the militarization of several reclaimed artificial islands, that have forever changed the landscape and status quo of the SCS. In 2020, the PRC unexpectedly called on ASEAN to resume the negotiations as soon as possible. The PRC’s sudden urgency to conclude a code at the earliest opportunity begs the question—is it still in ASEAN’s interests to conclude a binding Code of Conduct? This article concludes that, given that the status quo in the SCS has been significantly changed in favor of the PRC, Beijing has nothing to lose and everything to gain by concluding a Code of Conduct that solidifies its claims and advances its national security and economic interests, all at the expense of ASEAN.