Book Review: Albania and China – An Unequal Alliance

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 18, 2016 09:49

Story Highlights

  • Worlds’ apart with little in common, the Albania – China alliance was a curious phenomenon that begs further analysis.

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albania-and-china-a-study-of-an-unequal-alliance-elez-biberajBy MAIRE ROWLAND

As the world watches superpowers like USA and Russia squabble over the Middle East in the pursuit of greater influence, it is easy to forget the role that smaller nations play in the battlefield of global politics. Why do small nations ally with certain great powers over others? And how do they benefit from these allegiances? An Unequal Alliance by Elez Biberaj gives us an insight into such a partnership through its examination of the Chinese and Albanian alliance (1964-1978) from the perspective of the underdog, Albania. From common ideology to common enemies, Biberaj provides an important account of the similarities that brought these very different nations together as well as delving into the weaknesses in their relationship that eventually drove them apart. Both the Albanian and Chinese governments cemented their friendship in the eyes of the world with carefully produced propaganda.

The two communist states were keen to emphasize their dedication to M a r x i s t - L e n i n i s m and denounced their enemies, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, for betraying communism by introducing free market policies and entertaining negotiations with the West. Common ideology was lauded as the cornerstone of their mutual alliance, but as Biberaj explains, this was merely secondary to Albania’s economic needs and China’s strategic interests. The first chapter of the book provides a brief but essential overview of Albania’s dealings with its powerful allies prior to China. This helps to understand why Albania’s communist leader Enver Hoxha reached out to Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China in order to form an unlikely alliance that few political analysts believed could last. Albania foreign policy has always favored a strong relationship with a great power.

Before its dalliance with the Chinese, after gaining independence after World War II, Albania had already partnered up and fallen out with Tito’s Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The country’s geographical position and turbulent history of invasions, its territorial disputes with its neighboring nations, along with its dependence on foreign aid made friendship with a powerful nation a necessity. In the 1960s Albania was in desperate need of economic aid after its alliance with the Soviet Union collapsed. According to Biberaj, fifty percent of the country’s trade was with the Soviet Union and with the break-up of the relationship Albania had lost a huge market. It also lost substantial aid money and military assistance.

The country needed a new, powerful ally to fill the shoes of the USSR. Conveniently for Hoxha, China was experiencing conflict with the Soviet Union at its borders and was also rejecting the seemingly cozy new relationship that Nikita Khrushchev was developing with the United States. The introduction of free market policies by the Russians was seen as a rejection of communism and therefore a threat to the a u t h o r i t a r i a n styles of government of both Zedong in China and Hoxha in Albania. For China, the strategic position of Albania in the Balkans and their falling out with the Soviets made them a country worth befriending. Once the alliance began, China immediately started to pour generous amounts of aid into Albania, filling the gaping hole in the economy that the break with the Soviets had created. Biberaj points out that one of the most unusual features of the alliance to the outside spectator was in fact one of the most important for Albania – the huge distance between the countries.

Albania needed an ally that would protect them from its hostile neighbors but not threaten its independence. Hoxha hoped that aligning Albania with China publicly would be enough to deter an invasion from other countries and their distance would ensure that the Chinese would not encroach upon Albania’s sovereignty. Maintaining Albania’s independence and his communist party’s rule was one of Hoxha’s main reasons for partnering with distant China. However, in the end, the lack of interference led to weak political ties between the nations and teamed with limited communication over foreign policy changes, the disintegration of the alliance was inevitable. Detailed and dotted with extracts of Hoxha’s diaries and editorials, Albania and China – An Unequal Alliance provides an interesting analysis into the political maneuverings that led to the formation and demise of an alliance between two distant and very different countries.

Albania and China – An Unequal Alliance by Elez Biberaj is available to purchase at Tirana Times Book House

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 18, 2016 09:49