Indian Ocean Power Competition

The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in IOR


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SIDS, IOR, SLOC etc

Mains level: SIDS, its importance, challenges and Way ahead, India role .



  • The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) serves as a connecting hub for global energy and commodity trade and comprises important Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) and major choke points. The IOR has become central to the geostrategic aspirations of large powers with vested interests in the region. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) located in the Western Indian Ocean such as Maldives, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, and Seychelles, are being dragged into the great power rivalry as a result.

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Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

  • Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a distinct group of 38 UN Member States and 20 Non-UN Members/Associate Members of United Nations regional commissions that face unique social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities.
  • The three geographical regions in which SIDS are located are: the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS)
  • SIDS were recognized as a special case both for their environment and development at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


Significance of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of IOR

  • SIDS are strategically important: The geographical location of SIDS islands is of strategic importance, ever since the Indo-Pacific architecture materialised.
  • Provides easy access and a base for replenishment: The islands provide easy access to the choke points, are located close to important SLOCs, and can serve as a base for the replenishment of resources for maritime powers conducting surveillance in the region.
  • Engagements boosts maritime expanse: The bigger powers have been engaging with the islands on a larger scale to boost their presence in this maritime expanse.


Challenges faced by SIDS

  • Multiple challenges: The SIDS, by nature, face multiple challenges due to their remote locations, size, fragile ecosystems, small population, and limited resources and capabilities. Most of the SIDS are classified as middle-income states, but SIDS like Comoros are among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
  • Economies are not diversified: The economies of these states are not diversified and are highly dependent on a few sectors like tourism and fisheries.
  • Climate change and losses due to natural disasters: Climate change exacerbates their challenges, adding an extra burden on their frail economies. The SIDS account for two-thirds of states that suffer the highest relative losses (1 percent to 9 percent of GDP per year) due to natural disasters.
  • Rising sea levels and impact on various economic sectors: Apart from the threat of the low-lying islands going underwater in the future, rising sea levels directly impact the economic sectors of the SIDS. For instance, saltwater intrusion affects freshwater resources and diminishes the quality of agricultural land.
  • Largely dependent on food imports: The SIDS are already largely dependent on food imports as 50 percent of the SIDS import more than 80 percent of their food. A further reduction in food production will increase their dependence on food imports. Self-sufficiency is a distant dream for SIDS in this aspect.
  • Fishery industry a major contributor of economy facing challenges of loss of EEZ: Fish exports account for a large share of the revenue for these states. The fishery industry faces challenges of loss of Exclusive Economic Zones due to shifting baselines, and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
  • Rising sea temperature: Additionally, rising sea temperatures also negatively affect marine biomass in the resource-rich zones of SIDS.
  • Tourism industry hampered by Pandemic: Almost 50 percent of the GDP of SIDS like the Maldives and Seychelles, depends on the tourism industry which was hampered by the pandemic. T


Powerplay and China’s maritime development strategy in SIDS of IOR

  • Concerns about increasing influence China: Powers such as the US, Japan, Australia, and India are largely concerned with the increasing influence of China in the region.
  • China’s island development strategy: Islands play a major role in China’s maritime security policy, as is evident by its island development strategies in the contested South China Sea and cooperation initiatives with island states in various geographies.
  • Vulnerable SIDS welcomed Support initiatives from China: The SIDS have welcomed the development and support initiatives from China owing to their vulnerabilities. From a port development project in Madagascar and major infrastructure development projects in the Comoros islands to a Free Trade Agreement with Mauritius and development assistance to Maldives; China has firmly embedded its roots in the region.
  • Maldives in debt trap seeks India’s assistance: When Maldives owed a debt of nearly US$1.5 billion to China in 2018, it had to turn to its traditional partner, India, for assistance to prevent an economic crisis.
  • Madagascar worries about Chinese debt trap: Madagascar is also heavily surrounded by Chinese presence and involvement in its economy and is worried about being trapped in debt. Chinese-funded enterprises comprise 90 percent of the island’s economy. Chinese migrants left very few job opportunities for the locals, disrupted trade and commerce, and established a monopoly of Chinese products in the market. Such a heavy involvement of China in Madagascar puts it at a high risk of instability and political upheaval. This is a clear example of how the strategic interests of large powers can bring the SIDS to the brink of collapse.

Opportunity to discuss and maintain stability through various forums

  • SAMOA pathway: SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway which is an international framework under the UN umbrella that has initiated a stronger action from the international community to support the vulnerable islands. It guides national, regional, and international development efforts to help these states achieve their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Alliance of small Island states: Similarly, the Alliance of Small Island States is a representative body of 39 small island states that provides a platform to voice their grievances.
  • Indian ocean commission: The Indian Ocean Commission is yet another intergovernmental body that consists of the islands; Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Réunion (French overseas region).

What SIDS must do?

  • The SIDS of IOR must strengthen their collaboration with each other.
  • They must make a collective effort to make their challenges and issues known to the other actors.
  • The SIDS should make use of the opportunity to ensure that the larger powers understand their security interests and include it in the larger security architecture

Way ahead

  • In most cases, decisions regarding security in the region have been taken by the influential, and larger powers without the SIDS.
  • The SIDS of the IOR can leverage their strategic position and use it to their advantage to make the larger powers acknowledge their security interests and issues.
  • The need of the hour is for stronger alliances and regional groupings to emerge, with significant participation of the SIDS, so that other actors do not downplay or overlook their issues and interests.


  • The SIDS have been advocating at various international forums for support and assistance to combat their challenges associated with resources, development, climate change, and most of all, survival. Rather than being viewed as pawns in the geopolitical competition, the SIDS must be viewed as important stakeholders in the region. This is the main change in the mindset, policies and approaches that are needed for secure and stable region.

Mains Question

Q. What is SIDS (Small Island Developing States). What is the significance of SIDS in IOR? Discuss the challenges faced by SIDS in the region and suggest a way ahead.

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