The Asia Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at Washington’s venerable Center for Security and International Studies recently released a report of its South China Sea Expert Working Group entitled a “Blueprint for Oil and Gas Production in the South China Sea. ” Having wrestled with these issues some 20 years ago to little avail, I would welcome a politically feasible solution or a pathway thereto. The “Blueprint” is an important contribution to thinking about interim solutions to these seemingly intractable disputes. However I am afraid it will fall afoul of reality and be ignored by the principals just as so many well-meaning proposals before it.

Since the aftermath of World War II, international politics has been governed by this so-called rules-based order.

It is a set of rules, norms and institutions which has guided how states behave and interact with one another. Founded by western powers led by the United States, the rules-based order enshrined in the United Nations Charter affirmed the sovereignty of states, encouraged cooperation, and advocated for peaceful resolution of conflict.

But as the international system undergoes transformation facilitated by rapid globalization and the emergence of new major powers, the continuing relevance and legitimacy of the rules-based order is intensely debated. Its erosion has become more imminent with the relative decline of US influence and the rise of China.

A recent poll purports to show that there is huge domestic opposition to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘soft’ approach to China, and it is supposedly gathering steam. If this is an accurate assessment of the ‘will of the majority’ –and some say it is not--it could force a policy change. But what are the proposed alternatives and the likely results of implementing them?

The Philippines, under then President Benigno Aquino, brought the legal issues generated by China’s competing claims in the South China Sea before an international arbitration panel set up under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In July 2016, the panel ruled overwhelmingly in the Philippines’ favor.

During this year’s chairmanship of ASEAN, Singapore is expected to continue the association’s work in developing measures to help mitigate tensions in the South China Sea. In recent years, ASEAN and China have agreed to establish communication hotlines between their respective foreign ministries as well as to implement the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). CUES is intended to reduce incidents between the navies (and eventually the coast guards) of littoral states. A framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) was agreed upon in May 2017 — an incredible 25 years since the need for a COC was first acknowledged. The implementation of its predecessor (the 2002 Declaration of Conduct) continues to be discussed.