I would like to extend my gratitude to the organizers for enabling this symposium, and for inviting me to be part of this significant scientific and academic activity. It is wonderful that the Academy of Social Sciences in the Peoples Republic of China has undertaken this initiative to discuss from an academic perspective the subject of cooperation between the Central and Southeastern European countries. As we know it, politics has already drawn its path; however, it requires a scientific support and expertise in the developments up-to-date, particularly the future of this cooperation.
With this regard, please allow me to share few thoughts:
First of all, the European countries of the subject region have never had an inherited actual or political problem with Peoples Republic of China. The history of China is a history of development in protection of its own territories and Chinas tradition is not an aggressive or threatening one, from a political and military perspective; it is neither dangerous to the sovereignty of other places, especially those of Europe. Chinas interest is to expand its market and transfer its assets to safe and stable places. The Central and Southeastern Europe gives this opportunity to Beijing to engineer a future with further cooperation and investments in Europe. This sort of policy of Chinas government is based on the principles of coexistence which emanates from the philosophy of deep rooted values of Confucianism.
Secondly, I believe that the Peoples Republic of China has made wise choices due to decades of tradition in its relations with some of the Southeastern European countries. Part of this tradition and experience has also been the communist period of Albania, Romania and former Yugoslavia. This fact eases the creation of a positive atmosphere in the relations of China with such region. This also means that in Beijing and the capitals of these countries there are various projects that are ready for implementation, particularly in the field of extrusion and refinement of oil and minerals, likewise building of a new and effective infrastructure in energy, etc. Unlike other countries, China has the opportunity review its former projects and to adjust them in coordination with the local experts, wherever China wishes to invest its assets on.
Thirdly, the Peoples Republic of China is in need of expanding its investments, whilst on the other hand, the countries of our region are in need of Chinas assets, knowing that they will provide improvement in the rate of economic development and quality of social welfare; in other words, it will attenuate the effects of the economic and financial crisis of our countries which has caused high unemployment rate and increased poverty, leading to a kind of social depression. Therefore, both parties may assist each-other in this aspect.
Fourthly, I have noticed that in this initiative, Beijings views towards the entire region of Southeastern Europe are free of political prejudice, leaving aside the previous misunderstandings, particularly in the case of my country, Albania. The interruption of relations between China and Albania in 1976-1978, took place for ideological reasons as stated in my book The Crash of Coexistence: the History of China-Albania Relations during the Communist Era. Back then, the official communist Tirana refused to cooperate with China, right when the later opened towards the Western American politics. However, Tirana today is in completely different reflection of terms and conditions, not to mention that despite such circumstances China has never expressed any signs of retribution with regards to these developments of the 70s. This signifies that there are no political and historical obstacles to viewing the region as an economic whole.
The principles behind the new foundation between China and our region are healthy ones, of mutual trust, therefore, it is expected that the outcome of this initiative is a positive one and it is obvious from both parties. Nevertheless, I would like to point out few concerns, which are present despite our goodwill and that prevent the overall development, eventually, that also affects the Chinese initiative of cooperation with Southeastern Europe. As an expert in the relations and developments of the Balkan region, I would like to share few important matters:
1. As we emphasize on Chinas interest to comprehensive and integrated investments as well as to utilization of assets for development, the accomplishment of this interest is closely related to the abilities of the governments of this region to offer projects that provide concrete solutions. And as such, I think that the capabilities of these countries are yet quite limited. Herewith, I would like to specify in particular Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia, where corruption and links with politics and organized crime are extensive and obvious. These phenomena weaken the governing process in these countries, as a result affecting their ability to cooperate with our international partners especially when it comes to the implementation of the projects. Would Beijing change this situation, though? Certainly not. This is an internal matter and such internal factors would have brought about a better governing whereas the state rule of law, the right to property and other rights, had been successfully accomplished. Given this situation of high corruption and implication in criminality and trafficking, makes some of these countries incapable of attracting foreign investments. Those who are corrupt in leading a country are prone to find corrupt partners. Thus, this makes an economic strategic partnership impossible. Therefore, the current development level prevents the cooperation between the Peoples Republic of China and our countries.
Nonetheless, I do not see this situation as permanent. The countries of our region are either member of NATO and EU or in the path towards such integration. As a result, the war against corruption and the implication with organized crime and trafficking could now take a turn towards a solution. The example of Romania and Croatia build more faith in us that the anti-corruption, anti-trafficking and anti-criminal process will also be restored in the remaining countries of the region. With this regard, given the efforts of EU and NATO to having a great influence in a better and clean governing of our countries, implies that they may be considered as allies of China in implementing investment policies and economic development in the region. As such, I believe that the Chinese investments in our region will also be successful in return.
2. The integrated development of our region and its benefits from the Chinese investment depend on the regional integration, stability, security and peace amongst the relations of these regional countries. I believe that the Western investment, European and American, have thus far established a solid base for stability, security and peace in the Western Balkans. Yet, there are unresolved issues. Conflicts continue to be present, even though not in the previously existing intensity. For instance, it has been 20 years since the Dayton Conference took place, when peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina took its turn, yet the process of reconciliation and integration of this country within itself and in relation to the regional countries, EU and NATO, has not been completed. This signifies a possibility for destabilization. Furthermore, the necessary peace between Serbia and Kosovo has not yet been resolute. Despite both countries being separate for almost 17 years, a lot of unresolved problems are present. Kosovo is now an independent state already, but Serbia, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia, and Greece have not yet officially recognized its independence. This behavior leads to a continuation of the conflict by other means, slightly more moderate, yet with a potential for destabilization. China on the other hand, has absolutely no interest in such developments. As specified earlier, Chinas interest is similar to the Western interest that is stability, security and peace in the region. As we know it, Beijing does not build relations with other countries based on the divide and conquer principle, therefore, I expect that these regional conflicts are perceived as a serious obstacle in the collaboration program that has been planned thus far. This means that there are no investments towards developments of a closed cycle.
To be more concrete, for more than a century, Serbia and the regional countries have dreamt of access into the Adriatic Sea. The projects financed by China anticipate building a railway from Serbia to Kosovo, through Albania till the Adriatic Sea. This project has been proposed as a solution by the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Berthold, in the beginning of the 20th century, however, Belgrade refused it and it has now become the attention of all parties. Can this investment be achieved given the current conditions of the conflict between Belgrade and Prishtina? I do not think so, at least not until this conflict is resolved. As such, the international recognition of the state of Kosovo is mandatory.
The Peoples Republic of China has not recognized the independence of Kosovo either. From my analysis, it seems that Beijing has no geopolitical or geostrategic reasons for this. It is only due to few problems in the internal relations of it. On the other hand, the actors acting in the initiative of cooperation and raising of investments have an immediate interest in the stabilization of the region. Amongst others, the independence of Kosovo has set the necessary circumstances and conditions for the implementation of such cooperation initiatives amongst the region and of the region with other countries like China. Therefore, Kosovo is of special importance in these projects, especially that it sits in the heart of the region. Same thing may be told about the blue highway of Eastern Adriatic, which connects the coast of four countries, namely, Croatia, Monte-Negro, Albania, and Greece. However, some of the kilometers of this highway belong to the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Should these countries be unable to agree to a standard of cooperation and integration amongst themselves and with EU, then the completion of such a project would be difficult to accomplish.
In conclusion, stability, security and peace in the region are a mutual interest of China, EU, NATO and the countries of the region, something that might not be applicable to any other power in the Euro-Asian zone. This means that the closer the Euro-China relations are, the more successful the projects in Central and Southeast Europe will be. It also means that the better the regional cooperation and integration is, the better these projects will be accomplished. According to this math, there is a clear relation between the major project of cooperation between China and the region, not only in the economic aspect, but also political. This relation does not prevent, but in the contrary, it helps the program of cooperation.
Finally, Albania offers a lot of investment opportunities for China. These opportunities may be a continuation of former projects in energy, like building of hydro powers, infrastructure, extraction and refinery of minerals, and other investments in the areas of oil storage. Tourism is another area for investment needs. All of these opportunities require clearly defined projects and actual engagements. I believe that the political goodwill is present for the completion of these major projects between both our countries, however I also think that there is a lack of expertise and special studies with regards to the actual abilities, functioning and execution of the law, procedures of application, etc. The Institute of Southeast European Studies, centered in Tirana, is eager and devoted to offer its assistance and expertise in these areas. Meanwhile, I am certain that the hospitality of the Albanian citizens towards the presence of the Chinese investments in our country is very positive. Given our current conditions, Albanians await the return of the cooperation with China of a new nature of quality under the circumstances of a free market economy and initiative.
*This contribution was delivered on December 16, 2015 in Beijing at the International Symposium on the relations of the Southeastern European countries with China organized by the Academy of Socialist Sciences and the Institute of European Studies of China