This article contributes to the current discourses on China’s diplomacy in the South China Sea disputes by asking: What does China want to achieve in the various negotiations? By comparing different versions of the multilateral Code of Conduct negotiations between 1992 and 2016, the authors find that the sovereignty issue has been shelved throughout the negotiations. We identify three factors that may account for this finding: the inconsistency of China’s official claims over time, China’s increased bargaining power, and the importance of the shelved sovereignty axiom since the era of Deng Xiaoping. The authors conclude that the normative game continues in the shadows of international norms represented by invalid sovereignty over the contested waters.
- South China Sea disputes