Recently, it is seen that the relations between Tirana and Beijing have developed rapidly. Albania is an important country in the Balkan geography due to its geopolitical position. Especially considering the importance of the Balkans in the Belt and Road Project that China wants to realize, the breakthrough that Beijing wants to make in Albania becomes even more important. The Balkan geography is home to 135 projects worth at least 32 billion euros that are already linked to China.
On the other hand, the fact that Albania has a coast to the Mediterranean, the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic is an element that increases the interest in the country. In particular, Albania’s Adriatic coast causes Beijing to attach importance to Southeast Europe as a gateway to the Mediterranean. Therefore, Albania is of critical importance for the development of China’s project. In other words, Tirana is being touted as a potential nexus point on European routes for Beijing’s Belt and Road Project.
On the other hand, Albania is a member of the 16+1 platform, where China aims to increase business and investment opportunities with Central and Eastern European countries. In this context, it is seen that the trade volume between Beijing and Tirana has increased recently. Albania’s third largest import partner is China. Furthermore, although Albania is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and wants to join the European Union (EU), it attaches importance to its relations with China. Moreover, in addition to having historical ties with Beijing, Tirana also aligns with China’s “One China Principle.” Therefore, the historical ties between China and Albania and Tirana’s adaptation to Beijing’s foreign policy play an important role in the acceleration of relations between the two countries.
In addition to all these, it is worth mentioning the instruments used by China to increase its influence in Albania. Economy is the main factor in this. By increasing its investments in Tirana, Beijing is trying to make the Albanian economy increasingly dependent on it, especially in sensitive industries, and ultimately wants to expand its influence in Albanian politics. Another way China uses to increase its influence in Albania is to strengthen its image in Albanian society. In this context, Beijing aspires to promote China’s economic and political model by reaching out to the Albanian community on a large scale.
As can be understood, China is using two main tools to increase its influence on Albania. These are economic investments and the strengthening of cultural ties. It can be argued that Beijing uses these elements as a tool to strengthen its political relations with Albania.
On the other hand, Albania’s decision to abolish visas with China on December 27, 2022 was an important development in terms of the improvement of relations between the two countries. This has made Albania the second country among the Balkan countries to abolish visas for China after Serbia. In particular, this move by Albania was described as a move that contradicted the policy of the union at a time when it started accession negotiations with the EU. Therefore, it can be foreseen that this development will have a negative impact on the process of Tirana’s integration with Brussels. It can also be argued that economic reasons influenced Albania and China’s decision to take such a decision. China is seen by some governments in the Western Balkan countries as a reliable source of financing for economic development.
In this context, China’s infrastructure projects in Albania have gained importance in recent years. In September 2016, Chinese company Geo-Jade Petroleum paid 384.6m euros for a concession to extract oil from the Patos-Marinza field, Albania’s largest oil production field. As can be expected, China’s investments in Albania are crucial for the development of Tirana’s political relations with Beijing.
Furthermore, Albania and China signed an agreement on the abolition of visas on January 17, 2023. Albania’s Foreign Ministry said the agreement was proposed by China and would have a positive impact on increasing contacts between citizens of the two countries. Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that this development will serve as an incentive to strengthen bilateral relations in all areas of common interest.
Consequently, Albania is seen by China as an important component within the framework of the Belt and Road Project. One could argue that Beijing’s primary goal over Tirana is to increase its influence economically and then strengthen its influence in the country’s politics. However, the fact that Albania is a member of NATO and wants to become a member of the EU is a serious obstacle for China.
 “China in the Balkans: Controversy and Cost”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/12/15/china-in-the-balkans-controversy-and-cost/, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).
 “Albania Is a New Belt and Road Battleground”, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/24/albania-china-bri-us-europe-geopolitics/, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).
 “Chinese Influence in Albania”, Center for European Policy Analysis, https://cepa.org/comprehensive-reports/chinese-influence-in-albania/, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).
 “Albania Backs Scrapping Visas for Chinese in Snub to EU”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/12/28/albania-backs-scrapping-visas-for-chinese-in-snub-to-eu//, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).
 “China, Albania Sign Visa-free Travel Agreement, Albanian Daily News, https://albaniandailynews.com/news/albania-china-sign-agreement-on-visa-waiver-1, (Date of Accession: 18.01.2023).