Sino-Albanian relations during the Cold War, 1949-1978 : an Albanian perspective

  • Ylber MARKU

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


This thesis is an exploration from the Albanian perspective of the Sino-Albanian relations during the Cold War. Based on primary sources, I look at the Sino-Albanian alliance in the broader context of the Cold War, and international relations’ system. In particular, I explore this alliance as an asymmetric role-based Cold War alliance, in which Albania provided political support to China, whereas China provided economic and military support to Albania.

As a small country with little political leverage on the international stage, following the Second World War Albania became first a Soviet satellite and the Soviet outpost in the Southeastern European flank, providing Soviet Union with a strategic position in front of the NATO bases in Italy – around forty miles from Albanian coasts. Eventually, two factors undermined the Albanian-Soviet alliance: Khrushchev’s reformation, reflected in the destalinization process, and the Soviet rapprochement with Yugoslavia – by then Albania’s main antagonist. In this context, China emerged as the new ideal ally for Albania, for political, ideological, and economic support. The Albanian leadership’s decision to intensify relations with Beijing was motivated also by the new Soviet leadership’s refusal to assist Hoxha in his economic plans to prioritize the development of heavy industry. The combination of the economic aspects with those concerning the political reforms after Khrushchev’s model, which undermined Hoxha’s Stalinist rule, pushed Albania to seek in China an alternative to the Soviet Union. For China instead, following the Sino-Soviet split, Albania became the only European country to provide Beijing with support in its claims for leadership in the international communist movement, and to support – although not fully endorsing – Mao’s domestic policies. Albania, arguably, became the only country to provide external support to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, mitigating China’s self-imposed isolation.

In the broader context of the Cold War, Albania served as the only European platform for China’s power projection in the western hemisphere. It also became the strongest voice in supporting China and Chinese interests on the international stage, and international organizations, the most important being the United Nations. In this context, for a limited time and for limited tasks, Albania’s diplomatic network, and Albania’s foreign policy, was put at China’s disposal. During the 1960s, between China and Albania developed a surrogate diplomacy: Tirana, acting on behalf of Beijing, provided China with the diplomatic infrastructure Beijing lacked because of its underrepresentation.

The Sino-American normalization, however, undermined the ideological axis upon which Albania had allied with China. Later, Deng Xiaoping’s reformation era reshaped China’s foreign aid principles, reducing also the aid to Albania. Finally, towards the end of the 1970s, the Sino-Albanian alliance ended.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of History
SupervisorXiaorong HAN (Supervisor) & Niccolò PIANCIOLA (Supervisor)

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