The recent dynamism shown in China's participation in trade-related fishery disputes implies key policy shifts in Chinese fisheries and fish trade policy, which attempt to integrate environmental protection responsibilities more seriously into the overall search for a sustainable marine economy. Presence in the World Trade Organization's tuna and seal products cases, which do not involve tangible trade interests for China, suggests a tentative departure from the trade dominance ideology. It is no coincidence that domestic reform initiatives, such as green and organic fishery labelling schemes, have steadily developed in China. China thus tends to show growing self-motivation, aside from external pressures, to realize sustainable marine development goals. It remains to be seen when it will rightly view universal sustainability obligations from an internationally cooperative and even humanitarian perspective. © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016.