An Invitation for Cooperation vs. an Exclusion Letter

"Our cooperation will continue to contribute to the further strengthening and intensification of the excellent relations between the Albanian people and the Chinese people," has said Speaker Gramoz Ruci in a message to his Chinese counterpart Li Zhanshu

By Genc Mlloja

The 71st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China has been another occasion to highly appreciate the traditional relations that Albania has with this country both in the state plan and between the two peoples. A meaningful expression of this reality was the message that the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament, Gramoz Ruci, who is also one of the veteran leaders of the ruling Socialist Party, addressed to the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Assembly of the People's Republic of China, Li Zhanshu. I find it reasonable to quote some assessments made by Mr. Ruci, which, of course, are neither personal because he speaks on behalf of the people, nor formal given the warm language chosen for its formulation.

Specifically, Speaker Ruci expressed his conviction that the very good cooperation between the Assembly of the Republic of Albania and the National People's Assembly of the People's Republic of China will be further expanded and strengthened in the future.

"Our cooperation will continue to contribute to the further strengthening and intensification of the excellent relations between the Albanian people and the Chinese people," he said in the message. Expressing the great desire to increase cooperation, contacts and direct dialogue between the legislative bodies of the two countries, Mr. Ruci reiterated to Mr. Li Zhanshu his invitation for him to pay an official visit to Albania at a time suitable for him.

There is no doubt that Mr. Ruci's repeated invitation to his Chinese counterpart is not a personal initiative but is part of the political agenda of the exchanges of the Albanian state with friendly countries and it must have had the approval of the head of government, Edi Rama and other relevant state and government bodies. Also, the repetition of the invitation for the number 3 in the hierarchy of the Communist Party of China shows the consistency of the Albanian leadership to find new ways of cooperation between Albania and China, especially in the current conditions when the Albanian economy has major declines in all areas such as showed by a recent EBRD report. Considering the frankness of the invitation and the possibility of carrying out the visit, it is assumed that the Albanian side has prepared the file with its objectives to give a boost to the multifaceted economic, social, agricultural, technological-scientific, cultural and medical cooperation. This dossier cannot fail to include important projects thatn cross the borders of Albania in the framework of the '17 +1 ”initiative as well as the 'One Belt, One Road', a mega project well known as the Silk Road, which has already reconnected China with the European continent. A few weeks ago, another freight train arrived in Budapest from China, carrying among others medical equipment against Covid-19.

"China has actively participated in Albania’s development. Up till now, China has invested more than 930 million US dollars in Albania and remains one of its top trading partners. As Ambassador to Albania I have encouraged our companies to turn their eyes to Albania. We’ve seen progress in fields of infrastructure, energy, agriculture and tourism, and there is still huge potential for our future cooperation," said the Chinese Ambassador to Tirana, Zhou Ding in an opinion on the occasion of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China published in the Albanian Daily News and the Albanian language daily Panorama on October 1, 2020.

So Albania has a lot to profit from China as the second largest economy in the world, the largest trading country of goods, the largest consumer market and a vanguard of innovation. Likewise Albania has a lot to offer to the Chinese market. Suffice it to note that China has contributed more than 30% to the world economic growth for many years in a row. After the outbreak of the epidemic, the Chinese government implemented scientific policies to control then epidemic quickly and effectively putting the people and their lives above everything else. In the meantime it actively engaged in international cooperation against COVID-19, and organized a large-scale distribution of humanitarian aid around the world.

Specifically in Tirana when Prime Minister Rama told publicly Albanians in a gloomy atmosphere of the country, which was under complete lockdown at the beginning of last April, that we are 'alone' in this fight against the deadly pandemic the Chinese were among the first to offer aid with such vital equipment at that time.

It was obvious the high appreciation expressed by the Albanian authorities when they took over the first contingent of medical aid because they knew better than anyone the scarce medical supply of country's health system at that time. This is an unforgettable moment but the memory sends me back in time like on a 'journey' to recall the kindness and generosity of Chinese aid in the very difficult times of Albania when it was even in danger of running out of bread in early 1970s.

It is meaningful a letter that Mr. Hajdar Muneka, former Ambassador of Albania to China, addressed to Prime Minister Edi Rama on March 22, 2020 for the latter to consider ‘turning an eye on China’ for medical assistance. And he argued: "For us Albanians, the Chinese are twice tested, firstly in the battle against this virus and, secondly, for the attitude towards us in our most difficult days. Of course a lot of water has flown since then, but the blood moves more slowly. To my knowledge, the Chinese have never downplayed the kindness towards us. When the sun rises again and people enjoy its rays without fear that they may take death home, let us sit down, do analysis and give opinions on other conspiracy theories."

Against such a spirit mentioned above, which is just the tip of the iceberg of the broad picture of Albanian-Chinese cooperation, which has been enriched by the growing number of Chinese tourists who have visited Albania in recent years but who, unfortunately, were blocked due to the pandemic this year, as a coincidence a letter bearing the signature of US President Donald Trump thanks Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama "for Albania's leadership in the Balkans and across Europe, for exposing China's malignant influence, human rights abuses, and predatory lending practices.” And the letter specifically states that the United States and Albania can soon sign a 5G Security Memorandum of Understanding, and Albania is urged to exit from the China 17 + 1 format. Also another request in the letter was for Albania to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.

In fact, there is nothing new in the pressure that Washington puts on Tirana because the American authorities have made efforts of this nature even before, not only in relation to China but also other countries, but not so openly. This is also part of an escalation of the intense diplomatic drive by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Southeast Europe. In some countries where he had gone recently such as the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria and Poland it seemed clear the attempt to build an alliance against China. Reading behind lines of official statements it is apparent that many of these countries, which are also EU members, adhere to the spirit of the strategic partnership between China and the EU reaffirmed in the high-level virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, the current chair of the bloc, European Council President Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on 14 September 2020.

Thus, for example, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis stated after the meeting with Pompeo that his country "seeks lines with the EU and there is no fundamental problem here (G5)". He stressed that the Czech Republic is a sovereign country and refused to rule out Huawei as a potential partner in building 5G.

Regarding the 5G issue, Rama has previously promised support to US, but in a comment on Trump's letter, the Albanian Prime Minister laid the stress on his satisfaction over the assessment that the American president had expressed for his role and the government he leads, both in terms of the region and even with regard to some positions that, according to him, "are convictions rather than opportunistic positions".

It should not be forgotten that the political actors of Albania, involved in a deep political crisis when it has entered the electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections of April 25, 2021, seek as usual the support of the US whose embassy is active on the political scene of this Balkan country.

But regarding the transfer of the Albanian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Rama said that Albania is in line with the European Union, which means not moving its diplomatic headquarters in Israel despite American pressure.

Albania expects to start the first intergovernmental meeting with the EU within this year, but the main actors of the Bloc, such as Germany and France, demand the fulfillment of 15 conditions to continue with the new phase of the integration process. Apparently Rama does not intend to add another ‘condition’ to the fifteen existing ones by moving the Albanian embassy to Jerusalem, something which is strongly opposed by the EU.

While regarding the 17 + 1 initiative launched in 2012 which includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia , Slovakia and Slovenia there have not been any comments by the Albanian side as yet. Suffice it to mention in this case that more than half of the countries participating in this initiative are members of the EU, and when many projects in the field of communication in the frame of the ‘17 + 1’ initiative and 'One Belt, One Road' crisscross all of Europe, including the Balkans, Albania would hardly wish to be self- isolated, a bitter reminiscence of this country's past by moving away from this initiative.

Today, when the bells of multilateralism are tolling louder than ever around the world, which aspires never to turn to isolationism and when no one can disrupt ties between countries, especially vital now at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic challenge, their echo has also been heard in Tirana. In his message at the virtual Summit in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations President Ilir Meta stated that this organization is the foundation of multilateral cooperation based on rules and that multilateralism is the only effective solution to the many challenges that affect world peace and security. (CRI online)