On Ayungin: Conquest No Longer Valid Means to AcquireTerritory


Even if China were to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin shoal and build yet another artificial island there, it will never acquire title over the area. The reason: International Law has long outlawed the acquisition of territory through conquest.

China also better rethink whether it should tow-awau a commissioned naval vessel. Derelicit as it may be, it is subject to full sovereign immunity and any attempt to tow it away from Ayungin may finally trigger the applicability of the US-Phil Mutual Defence Treaty. Thus far the US has said that the Treaty may not be triggered by fighting in the West Philippine Sea becauae it does not recognize Philippine title to the area. But an attack against a Philippine comissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose. The result: the West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indo-China conflict.


One comment on “On Ayungin: Conquest No Longer Valid Means to AcquireTerritory

  1. Ron says:

    It is very unusual to find a vessel that is no longer navigable being unequivocally treated as though it retains its sovereign immunity.

    Do you assert this on the grounds that the vessel is still under regular military command (although functionally unable to be commanded), that State vessels retain their sovereign immunity until expressly relinquished regardless of their navigable status, that the site of the Sierra Madre has been transformed into a sort of military outpost entitled to its own immunity, or on some other grounds?

    I ask as I am currently undertaking research at Adelaide University into the circumstances in which a vessel may lose its sovereign immunity. Especially since the adoption of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, several States with particularly maritime heritages (Spain, the UK, France, the US, amongst others) seem to have made statements to the effect that sovereign immunity remains with the wreck of a vessel until it is explicitly abandoned by the State owner.

    This would of course support the position that foreign interference with the Sierra Madre could enliven the US’s mutual assistance obligations, but difficulty lies in trying to pin down consistency of State practice in the absence of conventional guidance at international law in order to make such an assertion authoritatively (UNCLOS provides certain vessels with sovereign immunity, but does not clarify the conditions in which it is relinquished; the 1989 Salvage Convention and the 2001 UCH Convention both make provision for sovereign immune vessels, but leave ambiguous whether sunken or wrecked vessels retain that immunity).

    As I see you have been quoted rather extensively in light of the recent events at the Ayungin Shoal, I was hoping you could shed some light on the matter for me. I think that the treatment if the BRP Sierra Madre could prove rather informative.

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