The Asian Balance: The signal from Samoa

The larger significance of Samoa’s plan to advance its clocks

An excerpt from today’s Asian Balance column in Business Standard:

In 1892, a powerful American corporation convinced the king of Samoa of the advantages of being on the same side of the world map as the United States of America. Robert Louis Stevenson’s mother, then a resident of the tiny island state in the South Pacific wrote that “it was simpler and in every way more natural to follow the Australian calendar; but now that so many vessels come from San Francisco, the powers that be have decided to set this right” by switching time zones so that Samoa was just a couple of hours behind California. Given the economic boom in the Americas through the last two decades of the nineteenth century, it made economic sense for the Samoa to share business days with the United States.

Now, 119 years later, Samoa wants to advance the country’s clocks by an hour, effectively executing a westward jump across the International Date Line (IDL) and towards the dynamic economies of the Asia-Pacific. New Zealand and Australia are Samoa’s largest trade partners and host a large number of expatriate Samoans who remit money to their relatives back home. Imports from China have risen from nearly zero in 2001 to around 10% of the total import basket today. A Japanese multinational automotive component maker is one of the country’s largest employers. Oil supplies arrive from Singapore.

Yet because it lies east of the IDL, Samoa shares only four working working days with its key economic partners. As Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa’s prime minister, says “while it’s Friday here, it’s Saturday in New Zealand, and when we’re at church Sunday, they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane”. If he has his way, beginning next year, Samoa will be an hour ahead of New Zealand, not 23 behind. The tourism industry is complaining that it won’t be able to use its “last place on earth to watch the sun set” brochures anymore, but Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Tughlaqesque move—a couple of years ago he made Samoan drivers switch from the American to the right side of the road—might well unlock the economic potential of an additional 52 common working days every year.

It also brings Samoa into the Asia-Pacific. In geopolitics as in economics it is important to pay attention to what happens at the margin. This small island state (pop. 180,000) is literally at the margin of the world map. Its decision to join the Asia-Pacific leaving the Americas behind underlines the shift in global economic power from its East to its West. [Note: the editors removed the “its”es in the published version, which changes the intended nuance]

For over three decades, the South Pacific has been a key theatre in the contest for diplomatic recognition between Taiwan and China. Both sides offered financial inducements to governments of tiny island states each of which have their own flags and seats in the United Nations General Assembly. Not only has Beijing’s score has improved in recent years, the diplomatic investment is likely to stand it in good stead in the emerging contest with the United States.
Read the rest over Business Standard.


DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.