Prime Minister Edi Rama said there had been no economic benefits from China’s 17+1 economic cooperation bloc with Eastern European nations but said Albania would remain in the group to maintain dialogue with Beijing.
Albania has a long history, with China, having allied itself with the Communist Party when it was under a communist dictatorship for almost fifty years. China, however, has fallen from grace in public perception over the last few years amid its close ties with Russia and concerns about its growing influence in Europe.
Rama, speaking during a visit to Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday, said the framework, a part of its Belt and Road Initiative, has its benefits but “in terms of economic impact, I would say zero.”
Data processed by BIRN in 2021 found that while other Western Balkan countries are enjoying increased Chinese investment, in Albania it has declined, and there have been no major investments since 2016.
Despite the withdrawal of Lithuania from the grouping in 2021, a precursor to ailing relations further exacerbated by Vilnus’ growing ties with Taiwan, and the exit of Estonia in 2022, Rama said Albania would stay put.
“We are not going to withdraw. We are going to stay, and I think withdrawing in principle is not a good idea,” adding that now more than ever, it is important that countries maintain dialogue and “talk as much as we can to each other”.
When asked about accepting investments from China as it tries to make itself more present in the region, he said, “Our strategic sectors are part of our strategic vision of the future. They are very tightly connected with where we work with the family of countries where we belong.”
He explained, “We want to share our security burden with countries that are part of our strategic alliances.” These, he said, “are named United States and European Union.”
In 2013, the Leader of the Communist Party of China, and the country’s President Xi Jinping announced his new plan to the world. He spoke of a China-led “Silk Road Economic Belt” based on the principle of the old trade route that connected east to west, centuries ago.
Promising a “win-win” situation for all those involved, and stating that China would never interfere in the internal affairs of the countries involved, interest was minimal and non-committal.
Fast forward several years and the “One Belt, One Road” (BRI) project has signed up more than 124 countries and 29 international organisations to date.
In Europe, fragmented information confirms that Chinese state-owned enterprises have major stakes in twelve ports including Piraeus harbour. The government also has large shares in the Maltese state-owned energy company- a deal that has been clouded by controversies and allegations of kickbacks to Maltese politicians and the murder of a journalist.
China also controls a significant percentage of the continent’s airports including Heathrow, Toulouse, and Frankfurt.
Beijing has been forced to counter claims of ‘debt trap diplomacy’ due to its lending of significant sums to countries and projects that were not feasible. In the case of Montenegro, the country’s inability to pay back its instalments nearly resulted in it having to hand over a chunk of territory until three international banks intervened.
However, China maintains that it does not engage in any form of debt-trap diplomacy.
(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)