Albania is among the countries of the region with the longest and deepest track record of cooperation with communist China, before the two countries fell out at the beginning of the 1970s. Dozens of past joint projects mean that there are various supporters of a political renaissance between the two states who still regularly refer to this historical period of close relations. Indeed, this attitude features in cultural and tourism ties, too. For older people, the principled stand of reclusive Albania and orthodox communist China can still bring forth waves of political nostalgia.
When it emerged dramatically, impoverished from communism, Albania sought to re-join the world, looking in all directions for friends, partners, and investors. China was among the likely candidates for renewed cooperation, and during the 2000s Beijing showed some interest, mostly in trade and infrastructure. Yet, Albania’s foreign policy and other positions was strongly framed by the promise of democratic and market transition, gradual reintegration into Western political space, and US support and commitment. NATO accession further solidified the country’s Western anchoring, just as Beijing began to unleash a wave of activism in the Western Balkans. The mid-2010s witnessed a series of Chinese investments in important sectors in Albania, implying sustained interest and future investments.
Firstly, the Chinese firm Geo-Jade Petroleum acquired the concession for the major oil extraction field in the country, seemingly making a breakthrough investment. A year later, the company China Everbright secured the Tirana Airport concession, suggesting an emerging trend of gradual economic Chinese penetration of the Albanian economy. Chinese firms then made various attempts to gain a foothold in Albanian ports through the creation of economic and investment zones. Trade has grown such that China is now Albania’s third largest export partner. Chinese companies have sought to win road infrastructure projects and more and more local firms have established links with Chinese counterparts through trade fairs. Huawei made a concerted effort to embed itself, at one time securing the support of Prime Minister Edi Rama. Cultural cooperation also picked up as the Chinese embassy ‘went granular’, organising large-scale events and providing material help to cultural institutions. Furthermore, China provided significant official aid on various occasions, most notably after a series of devastating earthquakes. Chinese cooperation with the Red Cross ensured public exposure as did the delivery of covid-19 testing kits. Chinese interaction with Albanian media outlets has also increased during the last few years, leading to an uptick in the presence of China-related content.
Still, this activism has not generated a sustained wave of economic engagement. At the end of 2020, Tirana Airport’s ownership was transferred to an Albanian company and there have been no announcements of significant new Chinese investments in the country. A regionally re-engaged US and a push to begin EU accession negotiations has further reinforced Albania’s sense of geopolitical belonging. The frustration at the persistent postponement of EU accession talks has not transformed into a greater readiness among the Albanian population or political class to explore non-Western political and economic options. Furthermore, Tirana is sensitive to the ongoing shifts in China-West relations. It doesn’t want to undermine good relations with Western powers and therefore remains unlikely to make any dramatic shifts in approach, especially if the EU enlargement process regains momentum. At the same time, prolonged regional geopolitical ambivalence and delayed EU membership will undoubtedly impact on Albanian perceptions and calculations. China has been increasing its diplomatic presence in the country, even if largely to improve its capacity vis-à-vis Kosovo. Moreover, China’s “16 plus 1” engagement and investment framework is gradually focusing again on the Western Balkans and new project ideas could come Tirana’s way. Additionally, Beijing has increased its society-based diplomatic presence in the country, ranging from culture to academic and education. We should also remember that China’s interest in maritime infrastructure predates the Belt and Road Initiative and is unlikely to end. Developments further up the Adriatic Sea are a useful reminder of where China’s interests lie.
Economy & business
The major Chinese investments in Albania include: Hong Kong-based company China Everbright and Friedmann Pacific Asset Management’s acquisition of the concession rights of Tirana International Airport, which is now under Chinese management until 2025 with a possible two-year extension. China’s Shanghai-based Geo-Jade Petroleum also acquired the Canadian company Bankers Petroleum in 2016 to the tune of nearly half a billion US dollars, which gives the Chinese firm full rights to develop Albania’s Patos-Marinza oilfield, the largest onshore oilfield in Europe. Reuters reported in late 2019 that “After investments of more than $2.5 billion at its Patos-Marinza oilfield, Bankers now produces 95% of Albania’s crude oil.”
Not everything has gone smoothly. In 2016, the Chinese construction company withdrew from the Arber Road project, which was valued at more than $200 million. It was then taken over by an Albanian firm, the Gjoka Construction Company, and the government via a joint financial arrangement agreed between the private company and the state.
Chinese investment in the Balkans focuses mostly on fossil fuel-linked industries, including energy, refinement transport, and mining. There is only one investment in telecoms – by Huawei – and one in metal processing (steel production) out of 21 greenfield or mergers and acquisitions from Chinese companies in the Balkans.
Discussions originally took place with Chinese banks and investors on building two transport corridors – the Blue Corridor and Arber Road. However, in the end the Albanian government chose to work with other partners.
Bilateral trade between China and Albania has grown steadily since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008. Since 2008, it has risen from a total value of $284 million to $635 million in 2016. More recently, Albanian exports to China have increased. In 2019, they totalled 6.2 billion Albanian lek (€50.9 million), with annual growth of only 1%. However, this a better figure than one-year prior when Albania’s exports to China declined by 26%. Bilateral trade has increased threefold in less than one decade, due to accelerated trade practices being put in place. More trade has meant that more and more Chinese commodities are present in the Albanian market.
In 2016, China was Albania’s third largest economic partner. Imports from China also continued to grow, reaching 8.8% of total imports in 2016, up from 6.4% in 2012. Albanian exports to China increased by 29.7% from 2012 to 2016, supported by the increase in exports of minerals and oil, and of construction materials and metals
In 2017, Albania imported $312 million worth of goods from China. According to Obsevatory of Economic Complexity, China’s exports to Albania in 2017 were as follows: Machines $104 million; textiles $49.4 million; mineral products $37.9 million; metals $29.3 million; miscellaneous $24.1 million; plastic and rubber $22.1 million; stone and glass $17.5 million; chemical products $15.7 million; footwear and headwear $15.5 million; transport $8 million; instruments $7.19 million; paper goods $5.37 million; animal hides $4.89 million; vegetable products $2.73 million; foodstuffs $2.66 million; wood products $2.37 million; animal products $365,000; animal and vegetal by-products $333,000; and precious metals $129,000.
Albania exported $177 million worth of goods to China in 2017. Products such as Albanian wine are proving popular, with China expected to become its largest market. The value of mineral products exported to China was $162 million. Other export goods include: textiles $8.55 million; metals $4.15 million; footwear and headwear $1.86 million; and foodstuffs $151,000.
The total trade value between Albania and China neared $600 million in 2018. Official data show that imports from China in 2019 increased by 11%, while China was Albania’s third main trade partners after Italy and Greece.
Soon, China will be a new market for Albanian animal products. Albania and China have signed a memorandum regarding their collaboration about the import and export of food products and their safety.
Figures show that by 31 March 2020 China was Albania’s third largest trading partner. Despite the impact of covid-19, bilateral trade increased 36% in the first half of 2020. There has been diversification in the categories of products exported to China, making the trade structure more balanced.
Loans from Chinese Banks and Entities
China has provided $126 million to Albanian government under a bilateral financial agreement as a loan to be repaid over 12 years with a 3.5% interest rate.
Main Local Companies / Businesspeople with Economic Ties to China
Chinese investments in Albania have taken place through indirect acquisition of shares of Albanian companies’ property of non-Albanian owners:
- In May 2014, a subsidiary of Ekin Maden Ticaret ve Sanayi A.Ş. – a Turkish company – sold a 50% stake in Beralb Ltd for $65 million to Jiangxi Copper Company ltd. of China23;
- In September 2016, the Chinese-owned Geo-Jade Petroleum acquired management rights for the largest oil field (operated by Bankers Ltd – a Canadian company) in Albania for $575 million;
- In October 2016, China Everbright Limited acquired 100% of the shares of the Tirana International Airport for 30 years from its German owner. (Source: China and Western Balkans – Ardian Hackaj).
- The company “Euroasia Footwear”, located in Kamza, is a shoe manufacturing enterprise in tripartite cooperation China-Albania-Europe, which makes products for well-known brands in European markets, mainly in Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
According to the Albanian National Business Center, the number of Chinese companies operating in Albania is 149, as of April 2018.
Cooperation between China and Employers’ and Branch Associations
Economic relations between the two countries have strengthened in recent years. Around 150 Chinese national companies are present in Albania in various sectors according to the Chinese Embassy website.
The Chinese companies, at least from what we can gather from information posted in the website Chinese embassy in Tirana, organises regular meetings with Chinese companies. On 29 May 2019, a meeting of Chinese companies took place at the Chinese embassy. The meeting was attended by Chinese ambassador to Albania Zhou Ding, adviser Lian Gang, and representatives of dozens of Chinese companies, such as Tirana International Airport, Bankers Petroleum, Sinohidro, Hailong Oil Service, CRTV, and Huawei. On 6-7 February 2019, the ambassador of China to Albania Zhou Ding visited the Chinese companies Hailong Oil Service and Bankers Petroleum, to express “sincerest congratulations” to the Chinese and foreign employees of the two companies for having continued to work even during Chinese Spring Festival holiday.
The Chinese embassy also convenes meetings on the security of Chinese companies in Albania.
Cooperation takes place between the local Chinese embassy and the Farmers’ Association and local farmers via a programme for agricultural cooperation.
Activities and participation in joint trade fairs has been expanding. In 2015, a Business-Art-Coexistence event was organised by the Klik Ekspo Group. In the same year, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Hong Kong to attend the Economic Forum where more than 100 companies interested in trading with Albania were represented. In 2018, Albanian firms attended the first China International Import Expo trade fair held in Shanghai, showcasing products such as Skenderbeu cognac, Albanian wine, liquors, cream liquor, spirits, honey, medical and aromatic plants, herbs, essential oils, and more. Albanian companies also attend the various China-Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) Investment and Trade Expos.
Cooperation by China with local political parties; agreements, visits, and exchanges.
In March 2015, the Socialist Party of Albania, the Democratic Party of Albania, and the Socialist Movement for Integration sent a delegation to Suzhou for the 4th China-Europe High-level Political Parties Forum.
In March 2015, the Socialist Party of Albania, the Democratic Party of Albania, and the Socialist Movement for Integration sent a delegation to China for the China-CEEC Young Political Leaders Forum.
In December 2018, Ambassador Jiang stated that exchanges and cooperation had intensified with a total of 28 cooperation documents signed in 17 areas over the previous three years. China has become an important source of foreign investment in Albania with collaborations in infrastructure, energy and minerals, human resources, agriculture, and tourism becoming new growth points. Human-cultural exchanges were also on the rise.
Prominent political figures with official positions on relations with China
Cooperation Framework: number of state-to-state agreements, areas of formalized cooperation, agreements and projects with local authorities, exchange and training programmes with civil servants
Regular exchanges of official visits have taken place between Albania and China over the years. In 2000, upon invitation of the Albanian foreign minister Paskal Milo, China’s foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, paid a two-day visit to Tirana. During the visit, the president, Rexhep Meidani, the prime minister, Ilir Meta, and the speaker of parliament, Skender Gjinushi, met with Tang.
In 2002, Chinese state councillor Wu Yi conducted a two-day visit to Tirana and met with President Rexhep Meidani to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation.
In 2004, Fatos Nano, the prime minister, met with Chinese president Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and discussed further deepening of bilateral relations.
In 2009, Sali Berisha, the prime minister, visited China and met Hu, marking the 60th anniversary of Sino-Albanian diplomatic ties. At that event Hu stated that relations between China and Albania were at a new starting point, with a new opportunity for further development and pragmatic cooperation.
In 2011, the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, visited Tirana and met the prime minister, Sali Berisha, the speaker of parliament, Jozefina Topalli and the president, Bamir Topi.
In 2017, Zhang Gaoli, Chinese vice-premier visited Albania for two days and met the president, Bujar Nishani, and the prime minister, Edi Rama. On that occasion, Zhang highlighted the importance of Albania as an integral part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and welcomed the intensification of Albania’s participation in the “16+1” cooperation format. Rama is the only Albanian prime minister since 1991 to have a one-to-one meeting with a Chinese president. The only meetings he has held have been within the “16+1” framework with premier Li Keqiang.
The “16+1” cooperation mechanism gave new impetus to Sino-Albanian relations, helping increase trade and investment. In Albania, the China-CEEC cooperation platform is mostly deals with investments and trade. Some individual cases have attracted public attention, such as the acquisition of the controlling rights of two Albanian oil fields (Patos-Marinza and Kucova) from Geo-Jade Petroleum (a Shanghai based company) specifically, which in total produce around 13,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
In 2001, Albania and China signed three agreements covering financial and technical aspects of the construction of the Bushat hydropower station in northern Albania. Beijing provided support for the $126 million preferential loan project, and the station was built by China International Water and Electricity Corp in 2008.
In 2005, cooperation agreements were signed between the armed forces of the two countries. Four years later, in April 2009, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha visited Beijing. On that occasion, during the talks with the Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and other Chinese leaders, Berisha said he wished to see strengthened relations based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence and raise them to a higher level. The two sides signed a joint statement on deepening traditional friendly relations and documents on cultural and health cooperation. As one of the most important documents in Sino-Albanian relations, the joint statement set out the basic principles of bilateral relations, including the political basis and directions of development and cooperation. The four main points highlighted are:
- Increasing dialogue as the basis for stable political relations;
- Greater emphasis on cooperation in the field of information technologies, energy, infrastructure, and mining research;
- Expansion of cooperation in the fields of culture, health, agriculture, and tourism; and
- Strengthening coordination in the United Nations and other international organisations on the protection of the interests of developing countries and the unity of the United Nations.
During his stay in Tianjin for the World Economic Forum between 9-12 September 2014, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang held a bilateral meeting. The Chinese prime minister stressed that the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations should be an opportunity to improve high-level exchanges and promote practical cooperation in all areas. The forum was the venue for the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between representatives of the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry and PowerChina as well as for the conclusion of the agreement on the construction of highway between Albania and North Macedonia.
Later, at the Belgrade Summit in December 2014, the two prime ministers agreed on the construction of Arber Road to link Albania with North Macedonia. The highway would continue to Bulgaria, connecting Albania’s Ionian Sea coast with Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. However, the project did not come to fruition due to an investigation by the Chinese authorities into corruption at China State Construction Engineering Company (CSCEC). In the same year, at the “17+1” summit in Belgrade an agreement was reached on the construction of an industrial park and the development of port infrastructure in the coastal city of Durrës.
In November the following year, a memorandum of understanding was signed on a project to build the Adriatic-Ionian highway from Trieste in Italy, through Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania, to Greece. This project held national significance and opened-up the possibility for building parts of the Thumane–Peze-Mullet road and the Peze Mullet–Dushk road.
In April 2016, Chinese firm Geo-Jade Petroleum acquired the Canadian oil company Bankers Petroleum, which also operates in Albania, for $575 million, which included the oilfields of Patos–Marinze and Kucova.
At the same time, the Chinese company Everbright Limited acquired through concession Tirana International Airport until 2025 with a possible two-year extension.
In addition, the Chinese company Sinomine Resource Exploration has established a daughter company in Albania, which works on the construction of mines and geological tests in cooperation with the Albanian Geological Institute.
In 2017, China granted a relatively modest €1.5 million to the Albanian government to modernise the agricultural sector, and $2 million for the reconstruction of the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet and the Popular Ensemble. These figures are taken from the embassy website.
In November 2015, a memorandum of understanding between Albania, Montenegro, and Chinese firm Pacific Construction Group was signed by Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, during the “16+1” economic summit in Suzhou, China.
On the personal initiative of the Chinese ambassador, China has funded the purchase of ten new excavators for the opening and cleaning of the main drainage channels in the most problematic areas of Albania.
The ambassador declared that China will also support Albania to improve the irrigation of agricultural land. The Albanian Ministry of Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources are expected to sign a Memorandum of Cooperation in the upcoming months.
In 2014, the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry and the Chinese state-owned company PowerChina signed a memorandum of collaboration in Beijing. The Albanian delegation was headed by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. According to the China International Radio (Albanian section), the memorandum emerged from discussions between the two prime ministers who expressed their support for its swift implementation. PowerChina owns about 50% of the world hydroenergy sector while hydropower itself makes up for 17% of the total electric power capacity worldwide.
In 2015, Yan Jiehe, the president of the China Pacific Construction Group, the biggest Chinese private construction company, held a meeting with the minister of transport and infrastructure, Edmond Haxhinasto, to discuss opportunities to invest in Albania. The official press release of the Ministry of Transport announced that Haxhinasto presented to the representatives the Adriatic-Ionian highway and the Eighth Corridor as priority infrastructure projects in the country. The Albanian Ministry of Transports and Infrastructure subsequently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Pacific Construction Group.
In September 2015, the People’s Bank of China and the Bank of Albania signed the Chinese yuan/Albania lek bilateral currency swap arrangement agreement and held a virtual conference on “Partnership bridges and opportunities to promote trade in the field of agriculture between Albania and China”.
In 2017, China and Albania signed a cooperation document on the joint construction of “One generation, one road”, bilateral treaty, which has led to the expansion of cooperation in trade, culture, education, and health; and between policy research institutes and local governments.
In November 2016, in the presence of the prime ministers of the two countries, a memorandum of cooperation was signed in human resource development. The two sides agreed that China should provide support to the Albanian government in the implementation its 100 Villages project, which aims to support and train Albanian village mayors. In 2019, a seminar was held on the modernisation of public administration through use of performance management.
In April 2017, former member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the People’s Republic of China and former Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli visited Albania. During the visit, he and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, jointly determined the level of this commission at the level of ministers and, as a result, the platform of cooperation and economic and trade exchanges between the two parties has reached a new level. Since January 2014, when the 8th meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Economic and Trade Commission between the two countries was held in Tirana, the parties embraced the proposal of a bilateral initiative titled “One generation, one road”, in the framework of “16 +1” cooperation format. Reciprocal high-level visits of the two sides have been frequent and have promoted the successful development of economic and trade relations between China and Albania.
On 27 February 2019 in Tirana, a ceremony was held to donate physical training equipment from the Chinese government to Albania’s Republican Guard.
Cooperation with local government – projects, initiatives, and visits
On 25 October 2019, the “17+1” forum was held in Tirana at the level of mayors. This was an initiative led by China that aimed to increase and expand cooperation with central and eastern European countries in the field of investment, transport, finance, science, education, and culture
The ambassador of China, Zhou Ding, held a meeting in October 2019 with the mayor of the city of Elbasan, Gledian Llatja. Zhou said that Sino-Albanian friendship had a long history and that Elbasan had an inseparable connection with China. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Chinese technicians and engineers were in Elbasan, contributing to the industrial construction and economic development of Albania and leaving precious memories of a rich historical heritage. The ambassador said that China was ready to further increase ties with Elbasan, using the “17+1” mechanism, and increase cooperation in economy, culture, and tourism, to realise mutual benefits
On 5 September 2018, the tree of the city of Beijing, platycladus orientalis, was donated and planted in a ceremony in the Artificial Lake Park of Tirana. Vice-chair of the Standing Committee of the People’s Assembly of Beijing City, Yan Aoshuang, and the mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, undertook the planting together, which was to symbolise the friendship of the two cities in the new era and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the twinning of the two cities.
On 5 September 2018, a Chinese-style quadrangular “Shanshui” pavilion was inaugurated in the Tirana Artificial Lake Park as a gift from China Zhenjiang International Economic-technical Cooperation Corporation Limited (CZICC) to the Municipality of Tirana.
Civil society cooperation with Chinese organisations by sector
In July 2019, the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe staged performances in Albania. The Ambassador of China met in July 2019 with a group of the Hong Kong Girls’ Steering Association, who visited Tirana and talked with the members of the group about Sino-Albanian relations and the construction of the “One Generation, One Road” initiative.
Engagement with local Chinese embassy
In April 2021, and on the eve of the traditional Chinese festival “Qingming”, a day when the Chinese honour the dead by visiting their graves, the Chinese ambassador in Tirana, Zhou Ding, along with other diplomats went to the Sharra cemetery to commemorate the Chinese specialists who fell on duty in Albania in the 1970s. Also present at this commemorative ceremony were the deputy general director of Albanian Radio-television Martin Leka, the president of the Albania-China Friendship Association Spartak Nano, the president of the Albanian-China Cultural Association Iljaz Spahiu, as well as representatives of Chinese enterprises in Albania.
In December 2020, Ambassador Zhou Ding said that in response to the 2019 earthquake and the covid-19 epidemic, China had offered assistance to Albania, demonstrating strong friendship between the two countries. The ambassador said: “China is an important trading partner of Albania. We have overcome major obstacles to international transportation and provided Albania with medical emergency equipment, including test kits, protective suits, gloves and masks, worth over 500,000 Euros. Chinese health experts and medical staff have held video conferences with the Albanian side to share their experiences. Chinese companies and individuals have supported Albania in their own ways.”
In September 2020, China and central and eastern European countries held a video-conference of experts on covid-19, a video-conference of the ministers of health on covid-19, and a video-conference of the national coordinators of “17+1” cooperation, to share experiences in prevention, control, and treatment. The political adviser of the Chinese Embassy in Tirana, Bai Yunbin, met with the general director of the Institute of Public Health, Albana Fico, handing over to the Albanian side the health support to help cope with the covid-19 epidemic.
On 25 June 2020, Zhou met with the mayor of the city of Lezha Pjerin Ndreu, handing over 100,000 masks donated by Chinese companies and Chinese people in Albania. On July 2020, with the coordination of the Chinese embassy in Tirana, the third round of aid for the covid-19 pandemic arrived in Albania. Their delivery took place at the Mother Teresa University Hospital Center.
On 31 March 2020, with the coordination of the Chinese embassy in Albania, test kits for the new coronavirus were donated by the Mammoth Foundation, a Chinese charity foundation, arrived in Tirana.
In the early days of the epidemic in China, President Ilir Meta, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi sent letters of solidarity to Chinese leaders, the mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, went to a Chinese restaurant and held a solidarity activity to fight the pandemic in cooperation with the embassy.
In February 2020, in the famous Chinese restaurant “1 Maji” in Tirana, the Chinese embassy in Albania and the municipality of Tirana jointly organised a solidarity event in support of China.
In September 2020, to mark the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the centenary of Tirana as the capital of Albania, the Chinese embassy donated 150 friendship trees to the Municipality of Tiran, which were planted in the Artificial Lake park.
26 November 2019 earthquake-related assistance
On 9 December 2019, the Chinese ambassador to Albania Zhou Ding met with the president of the Albanian Red Cross, Ylli Alushi, to provide the urgent humanitarian aid of $100,000 from the Chinese Red Cross to support the work of aid and reconstruction after the earthquake of 26 November 2019 in Albania.
In December 2019, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, had a phone call with Albanian President Ilir Meta. The Chinese head of state expressed his condolences to his counterpart and the entire Albanian people as well as the conviction that the Albanian people will overcome the difficulties and will rebuild their homes. The representative of Chinese diplomacy in Albania further stated that the Chinese Red Cross had decided to provide urgent humanitarian aid to Albania, while Chinese companies in Albania provided funds and materials for the people affected by the disaster.
Geo-Jade Petroleum, through the company Bankers Petroleum Albania, donated $1 million to the Albanian government towards reconstruction efforts following the earthquake, while it also distributed aid to the affected residents, mainly in the city of Durrës.
Cultural and other public events
In November 2019, the exhibition “Albanian authors for China, Chinese authors for Albania” opened in Tirana on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Albania. The exhibition presented over 400 works translated into the respective languages, among which the works of the Albanian writer Dritëro Agolli translated into Chinese and those of the Chinese writer and Nobel Prize winner in Literature Mo Yan, translated into Albanian. Chinese Ambassador Zhou Ding was present and the exhibition was organised by the Academy of Sciences of Albania, the National Library of Albania, the Alb-China Cultural Association, and the Beijing University of Foreign Languages. Over 200 books in the exhibition covered areas such as politics, economics, and culture, presenting the results of cultural exchanges between China and Albania. Among these books, “Xi Jinping: The Government of China”, “Anthology of Albanian Poetry” (in two volumes) prepared by the Chinese translator of the Albanian language Zheng Enbo, “Basic concepts of Chinese thought and culture” by Iljaz Spahiu, and “The shadows of a friendship that surprised the world” by Hajdar Muneka appeared for the first time in Albanian and Chinese translations.
An exhibition of Nankin traditional works of art opened in Tirana in September 2019. In the two-day exhibition held as part of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, 71 traditional Chinese works of art were presented, such as paintings, calligraphy, and cut letters, aiming to reflect the beauty of Chinese art and express Sino-Albanian friendship.
In September 2019, the Chinese embassy in Albania organised a concert for the 70th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China. The concert was also part of the International Festival “Musical Encounters of the Two Worlds”, which is supported by the Albanian company Argjiro and the Albania-China Cultural Association. A cultural ceremony “Art fragrance – A generation, a road” also took place in honour of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Albania.
In June 2019, the Chinese ambassador to Albania, Zhou Ding, met with the coordinator of the non-governmental organisation “World Vision”. On behalf of the embassy, Zhou donated items such as fans through this organisation to the children of Korça, who were affected by the earthquake, and those in poor areas, such as those of the district of Elbasan.
In June 2019, the Chinese ambassador celebrated Children’s Day at the Home for School Children aged 6-16 in the city of Shkodra. Teachers and students displayed Chinese language slogans and flowers to welcome the delegation led by Ambassador Zhou Ding. Both sides gave an artistic performance that included Albanian national songs and dances and Chinese tai chi exercises. Zhou gave gifts to teachers and children.
In May 2019, the Chinese embassy organised the Sichuan Food Festival in the framework of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-Albania diplomatic relations.
In July 2018, the Chinese embassy gave a lecture to “SME Albania”. At the invitation of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises of Albania (SME Albania), the Embassy of China in Albania participated in the second edition of the Summer Academy of Small and Medium Enterprises.
In March 2018, female embassy staff, led by Ambassador Jiang Yu, had a meeting with the president of the “Nermin Vlora” Foundation for women’s rights, Zenepa Luka, the former deputy speaker of the Assembly Makbule Çeço, the executive director Burbuqe Spahiu, and other members of the foundation from cultural, media, and academic circles.
Bilateral projects by sector
In May 2018, the Chinese Ambassador Zhou Ding visited Mother Teresa University Hospital Center, where he spoke with the director, Enkelejd Joti, exchanging views on health and medical cooperation between China and Albania.
The two countries in 2018 also signed the “Action Plan between the National Commission of Health and Welfare of China and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Albania in the field of Health for the period 2018-2020”. This document aimed to lay foundations for future cooperation.
In 2017, a Sino-Albanian training programme for public management and administration capacities began. Various training events took place in the fields of law enforcement, tourism management, and integrated water administration and management. The Chinese partner is the School of National Administration.
Media outlets with Chinese ownership
Cërrik radio station, District of Elbasan.
Cooperation and content agreements with Chinese counterparts
In March 2015, China Radio International launched an FM channel in Albania in Albanian language.
In September 2020, the Chinese ambassador to Albania, Zhou Ding made a donation to the Central State Film Archive and participated in a ceremony broadcasting a historical documentary on the friendship between China and Albania.
In September 2018, a China-Albania agreement on increasing media cooperation was signed. At the invitation of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) and ART, a Chinese delegation was headed by the Deputy Minister of Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. The director of the State Administration of Radio and Television of the People’s Republic of China Nie Chenxi also visited Albania. The two sides agreed on programme assistance, staff training, and technical cooperation. The meetings were finalised with the signing of memoranda of cooperation in the field of radio and television, news programmes, and agreements for the exchange of programme. According to the agreements, nine Chinese television dramas and documentaries were broadcast on ART channels, including “The Legend of Entrepreneurship” and “Stunning China”. During their stay in Albania, the delegation also visited Chinese and Albanian employees at the Cërrik radio station.
In April 2018, The Chinese ambassador met with Albanian media representatives – the president of Hysenbelliu Group, Irfan Hysenbelliu and the director of the newspaper Albanian Daily News, Anisa Skendaj, acquainting them with new ideas and measures to deepen the reform and the expansion of China’s opening, marking the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the reform and opening process in China.
In March 2018, the chargé d’affaires of the Chinese ambassador to Albania, Bai Yunbin, met with a delegation of Albanian media outlets going to China to report on Chinese politics. This was the first time in many years that an Albanian media group would be present in the hall of the Great Palace of the People, where the proceedings of the National People’s Assembly take place. The delegation consisted of five main Albanian media outlets, including the Albanian Telegraphic Agency and National Television.
Exchanges and other types of cooperation
The first translated Albanian movie to be shown in China was called “Tana” in 1959, while the most recent one was the 1999 movie called “Borxhliu”. China has imported almost 30 Albanian movies.
Some of them are listed below:
塔娜 – (Tana) Tana (translated in 1959); 山鷹之歌 – (Song of Eagle) Guximtaret (translated in 1962); 他們也在戰鬥 – (They Fight, Too) Beni I Vogel (translated in 1962); 特殊任務 – (Special Mission) Detyre e Posacme (translated in 1963); 們的土地 – (Our Land) Rruge Lufte (translated in 1964); 最初的⸜代 – (The First Epoch) Ne fillim te Veres (translated in 1965); 明的使者 – (Messenger of Light) Miqesi e Madhe Unitet Luftarak (translated in 1966); 海岸風雷 – (Echoes on the Shore) Gjurma (translated in 1967); 廣闊的地⸛綫 – (A Broad Horizon) Horizonte te Hapura (translated in 1968); 寧死ᶵ屈 – (Standing Still) Ngadhënjim mbi Vdekjen (translated in 1969); 地ᶳ游擊隊 – (Underground Guerilla) Njesiti Guerril (translated in 1969); 創傷 – (Trauma) Cuca e Maleve (translated in 1969); ặ擊戰 – (Ambush) Familj e Peshkatarit (translated in 1970) ; 戰鬥的早晨 – (Morning Fight) Ne Postin e Zakonshem (translated in 1971); 腳印 – (Footprint) Kenga e Shqies (translated in 1971); 烈火行動計劃 – (‘Blaze’ Operation) Operacioni Zjarri (translated in 1973); 第ℓ個是銅像 – (The Eighth Is A Statue) I teti ne bronx (translated in 1973); 在⸛凡的崗位ᶲ – (An Ordinary Post) Edhe Ata Luftojne (translated in 1974); 幸福的忻路 – (Happy Road) Rruge te Bardha (translated in 1974); 山姑娘 – (Village Girl) Kenga e Naftes (translated in 1974, made into a ballet movie); 戰鬥的忻路 – (On a Fighting Road) Lufta (translated in 1975); 初春 – (Burgeoning Spring) Plage e Vjeter (translated in 1976); 石油讚歌 – (A Blessing Song for Oil) Toka e Jone (translated in 1976); 小貝尼 – (Little Bailey) Mengjeze Lufte (translated in 1976, children’s movie); 最後的冬 – (Last Winter) Dimri I Fundit (translated in 1978)
In May 2019, the Chinese ambassador in Tirana, Zhou Ding, visited the Central State Film Archive and held talks with its director. In the archive are preserved documentary films that include the visit of the late prime minister Chu Enlai and Chinese films such as “The Girl with White Hair”, which were shown in Albanian cinemas. The Central State Film Archive declared its readiness to strengthen cooperation with the Chinese side.
Scope and range of academic cooperation agreements with local universities
In November 2019, the Ambassador of China to Albania, Zhou Ding, participated in the opening ceremony of a seminar on the modernisation of public administration with the performance management system and the seminar of village leaders within the 100 Villages project.
In May 2019, the Chinese ambassador to Albania Zhou Ding visited Mediterranean University where he met its president, the former minister of finance of Albania, Anastas Angjeli, and the rector, Gudar Beqiraj. They discussed the establishment of a centre for youth development cooperation between China and central and eastern European countries in Albania. The Chinese side stated its readiness to cooperate with Albanian higher education institutions, such as the Mediterranean University, in fields such as artificial intelligence and information technology to provide opportunities and new impetus for the development of the Albanian economy.
In February 2018, a delegation led by the director of the Academic Committee of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Yang Jiemian, visited Albania and met with the chief of the presidential cabinet, Arben Cicin, the president’s adviser on foreign relations, Valter Ibrahimi, the former president of Albania, Rexhep Mejdani, and the deputy foreign minister and at the same time the state coordinator of the “16+1” cooperation, Etjen Xhafaj. The delegation also exchanged views with counterparts from the Institute of International Studies of Albania on the “One Generation, One Road” initiative in the new era, “16+1” cooperation, and China-Albania relations.
Joint academic programmes and degrees by university and subject
Prominent research and academic publications on bilateral issues
In 2015, Albanian scholars and experts attended the High-level Symposium of Think Tanks of China and central and eastern European countries.
In October 2019, the Ismail Qemali University of Vlora, in cooperation with the Academy of Sciences of Albania, Peking University of Foreign Languages, Eqrem Çabej University of Gjirokastra, and several other university and cultural institutions, organised an international conference on Albanian-Chinese relations. The event was attended by 49 scholars from 14 university and academic research centres of the two countries, such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China-CEE Institute, the Academy of Sciences of Albania, the Institute of Historical Studies, University of Tirana, and the University of Belgrade.
In the same year, Luarasi University organised an international scientific conference on “Integrated policies in research and innovation” with Chinese partners. Another such event was organised in 2018 on the topic of “One Generation, One Road”.
In November 2018, the China-Albania Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Center organised a course on agricultural development with participation from the Agricultural University of China and the Agricultural University of Tirana. Both sides created the China-Albania Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Center. China is active in the implementation of the Albanian government’s 100 Villages project.
Research projects with local NGOs
In January 2019, the Chinese embassy in Albania held a seminar on “One generation, One Road”, linked to economic and trade cooperation in the context of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
In the same month, a promotional meeting on the 2nd China International Import Exhibition, co-organised by the Chinese embassy and the Biznes Albania association was also held. Professor of the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University, Wu Changqi and the well-known Albanian economist and professor of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Tirana Petraq Milo delivered lectures at the event.
Cultural and educational agreements at national and local level
In October 2018, the Chinese embassy donated books to the Library of Tirana with its political adviser Bai Yunbin, participating in the opening ceremony of the library of zone 3 of Tirana. The donation included over 100 books covering fields including history, culture, philosophy, art, politics, architecture, and Chinese customs.
In March 2018, the Chinese ambassador met with an Albanian educational delegation consisting of the secretary general of the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Youth of Albania Koli Bele, leaders of Aleksandër Moisiu University of Durrës, the University of Arts of Tirana, the Confucius Institute at the University of Tirana Ali Demi of Vlora high school and the principals of five primary and secondary schools where Chinese is taught. This was the second year in a row when such an event was put together. These activities were in the context of the initiative “One generation, One Road” and “16+1”.
Prominent bilateral cultural projects and events
In June 2019, Albania won medals of encouragement in the International Craft Competition which took place as part of the “One Generation, One Road” initiative, held at the International Exhibition Center in Chongqing, China. The Albanian team consisted of five people and was led by Luljeta Dauti, a specialist in the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Albania competed in the fields of cooking and networking and information. Adriano Musta from the Hoteleri Turizëm School in Tirana won a medal of encouragement in the field of cooking, with the help of his coach Olsjon Bilani, ranking 8th out of 17 competitors from different countries.
In June 2019, Albania organised the finals of the 18th Chinese Bridge competition. According to Chinese sources, the theme of the competition, “One world, one family”, reflects the traditional concept of the Chinese nation, which seeks good public order, loves peace, and proposes harmony.
In September 2018, the Chinese ambassador held an event to congratulate Onufri publishing house for receiving the “Special Contribution to Chinese Books” award. It has published various China-related books such as “Century Wisdom and Governance: Quotations of Chinese Classical Works by President Xi Jinping”, “China’s Road to Development and Economic Reform”, “Photo Album for the ‘One Generation, One Road’ Initiative”, “Street Culture of Tea” of Silk”, “New stories of old friends”, “China in the eyes of Albanians”, and “Angels”.
In August 2018, the Chinese Bamboo Flute Orchestra performed on the Albanian Adriatic coast, led by Professor Zhang Weiliang.
In June 2018, Albanian children performed kung fu in a performance organised by the Albanian Academy of Shaolin Kungfu at the Artificial Lake Park Amphitheatre in Tirana.
In May 2018, the Chinese ambassador, Jiang Yu, participated in the opening ceremony of the International Watercolor Exhibition in spring 2018 in Tirana. The ambassador also visited the exhibition and viewed the works of painters from various countries, including Chinese artists. Fifty-four painters from 25 countries and regions participated in this exhibition. Chinese painter Shan Hong was named the “Best Artist” of the exhibition.
In May 2018, Chinese programmes were shown at the Aulona Folklore Festival in Vlora. An artistic group from Quanzhou city of Fujian province of South China participated in the 10th edition of the festival.
Prominent organisations and artists in the areas of bilateral cooperation
Onufri publishing house is active in publishing translations of Chinese works.
Albanian-language Chinese media include CRI and Radio Ejani.
There is also a sizeable Albanian alumni community that has studied in China, both during communism and recently, which constitute the membership of some friendship associations supported by the Chinese embassy in Tirana.
Cultural cooperation has developed significantly in recent years. In 2013, a Confucius Institute was founded in Tirana, where the wider public can learn Chinese. Chinese is also taught in secondary and elementary schools. The Confucius Institute at the University of Tirana was established on 18 November 2013, based on the agreement that the University of Tirana has signed with the Confucius Institute Center, China (HANBAN) and the Beijing University of Foreign Languages (BFSU).
The Confucius Institute at the University of Tirana offers all levels of Chinese language learning, scholarships at the best universities in China, and various cultural events such as the Chinese Culture Competition and the Chinese Lantern Festival. During the six years since the establishment of this institution, the number of enrolled students has increased from a few dozen to nearly 600.
“Red tourism” exploits the historical heritage of the Chinese Communist Party for tourism development. Such tourism practice has been used by China both to drive the country’s economic growth and develop new patronage of the communist ideology among the young generation. Communist heritage tourism, as a sub-segment of heritage tourism, has recently captured increasing attention of tourism scholars.
2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Albania and China. To mark the anniversary, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama proposed the removal of visa requirements for Albanian and Chinese citizens. Currently, five-year multiple entry visas are issued to Albanian and Chinese citizens who wish to travel to each other’s countries for business, tourism, and other reasons.
People-to-people exchanges between the two countries have also been dynamic. Despite the impact of the earthquake, the number of Chinese tourists in Albania increased by 20% in 2020, while the number of Albanians going to China to work, study and travel has also increased.
In March 2018, Albania announced the abolition of visas for Chinese citizens during the tourist season. The Albanian government decided that between 1 April and 31 October 2018 and then ever since, citizens with ordinary passports from nine countries, including China, could enter Albania without visas, but the period of stay cannot exceed 90 days. Under the bilateral agreement between China and Albania, both countries had previously abolished visas for holders of diplomatic and service passports. In August 2016, China and Albania also signed a memorandum of understanding to simplify visa procedures, granting visas of up to five years for citizens of both countries with ordinary passports for business, tourism, and family visits.
The embassy of China in Albania has held meetings on tourism and consular issues, discussing issues such as possible problems that may arise after the abolition of Albanian visas for Chinese citizens during the tourist season and relevant measures to address these.
People-to-people exchanges via educational, state, and other institutions
In April 2021, a scholarship awards ceremony was held by the Chinese ambassador during which 30 Albanian students received certificates and awards. Scholarship winners were selected by the Confucius Institute of the University of Tirana, Epoka University, Polytechnic University of Tirana, and other secondary and primary schools where Chinese language instruction is provided.
In September 2020, the Chinese ambassador to Albania, Zhou Ding, met with the new rector of the University of Tirana, Artan Hoxha. Both sides exchanged views on further strengthening cooperation in the field of higher education between China and Albania. The University of Tirana has established good cooperation relations with Peking University of Foreign Languages and Peking University of International Studies.
In October 2019, President Ilir Meta awarded gave the “Naim Frashëri” title to two prominent Chinese personalities, Professor Zheng Enbo and journalist Wang Hongqi, during a ceremony held at the Head of State Institution for their contribution to promoting the development of Sino-Albanian relations and human exchanges between the two countries.
In January 2019, the Chinese ambassador, Zhou Ding, met the president of the Albania-China Friendship Association, Spartak Nano, and sought to promote cooperation and Sino-Albanian human ties in the context of the “One Generation, One Road” initiative and within the framework of the “16+1” mechanism.
Prominent cases of celebrities in both countries
In October 2019, an event was organised by the Albanian Presidency to honour Wang Hongqi and his contribution as a journalist, Albania expert, and senior researcher of Albanian issues over 22-year career with the Xinhua agency in Tirana.
In October 2019, an event took place to recognise the work of the Albanian writer and translator Dritëro Agolli and of the Chinese writer Mo Yan who translates into Albanian.
In September 2019, the ambassador of China, Zhou Ding, organised a gathering of Albanian students who had studied in China. Since the early 1990s, the Chinese side has granted scholarships to 138 Albanian students and has sent 52 Chinese students to Albania. Both parties have signed various educational cooperation agreements. The embassy has also organised receptions for students returning from China.
Prominent stories of people-to-people interaction and personalities
In February 2019, the Guangdong Song and Dance Ensemble conducted exchanges with the Confucius Institute of the University of Tirana and met with students and staff. At the meeting, the performance director of the Wu Po Ensemble introduced the Albanian students and staff to the traditions of the Chinese Spring Festival, while the choreographer of the modern ballet “Awakening”, Wang Xuesong, shared the story of the creation of this work with the audience. Chinese artists gave lectures to Albanian students on modern dance, the Guangdong dance “Qiangu”, and the ancient Chinese dance “Hantang”. Albanian students gave traditional dance performances from the north and south of Albania.
In April 2018, in Tirana, Chinese martyrs were honoured on the occasion of the traditional festival of Qingming, when the Chinese honour the dead by visiting their graves. The Chinese embassy in Albania commemorated people who died working in Albania. In the 1960s and 1970s, about 6,000 Chinese technicians and engineers went to Albania to assist in the country’s development.