If you’re reading this article on Friday, the 30th of December, 2011, give thought to the poor people of Samoa who will never see this day.
In fact, they’re shifting straight from Thursday the 29th to Saturday the 31st. The island’s sun-swept sand beaches will never see dawn on the 30th of December. The clocks will change from 11:59pm on the 29th to 12:01am on the 31st in a mere two minutes. Imagine going to sleep on Thursday and waking up on Saturday (and alcohol is not involved in the slightest).
I’ll tell you why. China is why.
Samoa is a small nation. So is Tokelau, it’s neighbour and a territory of New Zealand, which is also making the leap. The 186,000 Samoans and 1,500 Tokelauans live in the centre of the Pacific, almost halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. These beautiful islands are weak economically – Tokelau has an annual purchasing power of about US$1,000 per capita, and is the smallest economy of the world. It is entirely dependent on New Zealand subsidies. Samoa’s economy is “heavily dependent on agricultural exports, tourism and financial assistance from Samoans living abroad.” The islands are at terrible risk from climate change, as sea level rise threatens to totally engulf the fragile and low-lying islands.
Samoa is based 10 hours behind London, five hours behind New York, and most importantly for these islands, almost an entire day behind Australia and New Zealand.
It wasn’t always this way. This is actually the second time that Samoa has switched sides of the International Date Line, which will shift to accommodate the country’s plan. Admittedly, the Line is not geographic, and zig-zags already, to accommodate every nation.
In 1892, the United States of America convinced the Samoan government to switch to being their side of the date line, to be more in line with traders based in California. It celebrated July 4th twice, in a nod to the American Independence Day. At that time, this made trading sense.
However, this is no longer the case. Times have changed, the Samoa’s key trading partners are Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and most interestingly, China.
This switch is designed to be more in-line with these regional powers. Samoa and Tokelau will now be just one hour ahead of Wellington, New Zealand, and three hours ahead of Sydney Australia.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi told the Samoa Observer: “In doing business with New Zealand and Australia we’re losing out on two working days a week. While it’s Friday here, it’s Saturday in New Zealand and when we’re at church on Sunday they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane.” (Please note this is a devoutly Christian nation. In fact, the only objection currently raised is by the Seventh Day Adventist churches on the island, some of whom will worship Sabbath on Sunday instead of their traditional Saturday.)
The island is clearly keen on large moves. In 1997, largely under the radar, it altered its name from Western Samoa
, to the Independent State of Samoa
(distinguished from American Samoa
). The incumbent government of the Human Rights Protection Party also switched the country from driving on the right hand-side of the road, to the left, in 2009, in order to align with Australia and New Zealand. It gets most of its cars sent back from expats working in these nations.
It could be easy to dismiss the move as one of vanity. It may be the ruling party wishes to go down in history, or get Samoa’s name in the papers. Tokelau may just be piggy-backing.
Or alternatively, it symbolises and demonstrates a worrying shift in world and Pacific geopolitics for the US – the gradual shift towards China and the Far Eastern countries and their booming economies.
Thursday’s edition of the ruling Chinese Communist party’s official paper, the People’s Daily, said in an article “They will lose the date of December 30th 2011 forever, but they will gain a lot of great business opportunities”. Their business, and the world’s, is increasingly shifting away from America and the West, towards the new economies in Asia – and those sandwiched in the middle are making their choices.
Some may say that this merely reflects the fact that American Imperialism was always over-stretched in the Pacific, and the islands should always have been more orientated to Asia. But please bear in mind “China’s trade with Samoa leaped from 13 million dollars in 2006 to 70 million dollars in 2010.
” This is accompanied by warm relations between China and Samoa ever since 1975, when Samoa was one of the first nations in the region to recognise the People’s Republic of China. These relations are increasing and deepening, economically and politically – last month, the Chinese ambassador in Samoa opened a brand new Beijing-financed government building in Apia, Samoa’s capital, just the latest in a series of Chinese projects on the islands.The People’s Daily also noted in a commentary that “The strategic guideline behind this change means that China’s influence in the southern Asia Pacific area is rising.” I entirely agreed, Mr Propaganda-Machine.
—————————To end on a lighter note, think of this. The nations used to be some of the last to see the sun set. Now they will be the first to see the sunrise, the new dawn, each and every day.
As the clocks strike midnight in Samoa, at 10:00 GMT on Friday, Samoans will celebrate with carol singing, prayer services and a speech from Prime Minister Malielegaoi as Thursday forever shifts into Saturday…