China-Yugoslavia-Albania Relations

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at
Sat Apr 10 21:11:02 PDT 1999

Saturday April 10 1999 South China Morning Post - Hong Kong

Mainland's Milosevic connection


Beijing's friendships in the Balkans are

nothing if not flexible. These days Chinese

sympathies are all with the plucky Serbs

and the mainland media has been whipping

up public support for Yugoslav President

Slobodan Milosevic's heroic stand against

the West. Little is said about the ethnic

cleansing and the flight of the Albanian

Kosovar refugees or their struggling hosts

in Macedonia and Albania.

Yet for 15 years from the mid-1950s,

Albania was China's only friend and its

communist leader Enver Hoxha was Mao

Zedong's most loyal ally. Albanian films,

the only foreign movies shown on the

mainland, were the rage and fans dreamed

of meeting its stars, who daringly hinted at

intimacy between the sexes.

From the mid-1950s, the Serbs in Marshal

Josip Tito's Yugoslavia were reviled as

revisionists - but these days it is

Yugoslavian films which are screened, to

great applause.

Chinese Central Television is airing World

War II movies like The Bridge and Protect

Sarajevo which eulogise Tito's partisans.

Beijing's Capital cinema has shown a series

of such films called Yugoslavian Heroes

Come Back.

In the 1950s Mao, infuriated by Tito's

disloyalty to Josef Stalin, condemned him

as a traitor and was still more appalled

when in 1956 Belgrade voiced support for

the Hungarian uprising and condemned the

Soviet invasion.

That year fellow Stalinist Enver Hoxha

paid his first and only visit to Beijing,

forming a firm friendship with Mao that

became cast in cement in 1960 at the time

of the Sino-Soviet split. The two great

ex-guerilla commanders joined in opposing

Nikita Khrushchev for his revisionism and

co-operation with the West.

Mao's steadfast adherence to the Stalinist

line caused some misgivings even inside his

own Communist Party. Among those who

expressed doubts at local party branch

meetings was Zhu Rongji, who favoured

the workers' councils in factories which

Tito promoted. Soon afterwards Mr Zhu

was rounded up as "rightist" and

condemned to years of mucking out pigs

on a state farm.

Oddly enough this was also the time when

Beijing stood behind Albania's demand for

the hand of Kosovo and its Albanian

population. Hoxha claimed that during

World War II, when Tito's guerillas and

the Albanian partisans were together

fighting the Germans (who took over the

occupation of the region when the Italians

pulled out), Tito had promised that later

Kosovo would become part of a greater

Albania. The government in Tirana argued

that in 1944, the Kosovo Albanians had

staged an uprising against inclusion in the

Yugoslav Federation. Tito, backed by a

powerful army, strongly rejected these


Albania was isolated in Europe and its only

friend was far away in China. Still, as Dr

Tahir Elezi, former Albanian ambassador

in Beijing recalls, the Chinese love for

Albanians knew no bounds in the 1950s.

"I was here as a student and one day was

walking in Tiananmen Square when people

saw a foreigner and asked me where I was

from. When I told them I was from

Albania, a cheering crowd lifted me on to

their shoulders and tossed me in the air,"

he said.

China also lavished military and civilian aid

on Albania, sending thousands of experts

to build factories, roads and ports.

Between 1956 and 1982, poverty-stricken

China gave a total of US$27 billion worth

of aid divided among Albania and friends

in North Korea, North Vietnam and


In those days, the Chinese sang a song,

"Long live Chairman Mao Zedong, long

live Enver Hoxha, long live the Communist

Party, long live Beijing-Tirana".

The Albanians sponsored the resolution at

the United Nations to give China its seat

there and its permanent place in the

Security Council. Hoxha even launched his

own "Ideological and Cultural Revolution".

Yet as he confided to his diary, he became

baffled by almost everything that went on

China. In his great work Reflections On

China which ran to two volumes with

1,600 pages, Hoxha recorded his growing

unease during the 1970s as Mao's closest

allies such as Marshal Lin Biao and Chen

Boda suddenly disappeared from the scene

only to be labelled as traitors and


Worse, Hoxha was angered by the

gyrations in China's foreign policy. In the

early 1970s he called premier Zhou Enlai

"the Iago of Chinese politics" when he

began pushing for a "Yugoslav-Albanian

Defensive Alliance". Then, when Mao held

talks with US president Richard Nixon, the

news reached him "like a bombshell".

When Deng Xiaoping began re-aligning

Chinese policies and cancelling aid to

Albania in 1977, the friendship ended in a

bitter public row. That year Tito made his

first and only state visit to China and

became China's dearest friend in the

Balkans. The two sides re-established

party-to-party relations and ordinary

Chinese first became enamoured of

Yugoslavian films.

Mainland reformers were also fascinated

by the Yugoslavian way and the

experiments in worker management

councils. Hundreds of delegations went to

see them in action. Inside China banners

were raised that said "Learn from

Yugoslavia" and the Capital Iron & Steel

Works (Shougang) in Beijing was

designated a base for such experiments.

The Yugoslavian model was finally

rejected by Zhao Ziyang in 1987 and

relations remained cool until the

mid-1990s, when China adopted a more

stridently anti-American tone. Beijing

began to take a greater interest in Mr

Milosevic's defiance of the West. Little

was reported about the atrocities

committed by Serbian forces and instead

Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic,

became a welcome visitor in China. More

of a communist ideologue than her

husband, three of her books were

published in Chinese.

Bilateral ties reached a high point in

November 1997, when Mr Milosevic

arrived in Beijing on a state visit almost

immediately after President Jiang Zemin

returned from his state visit to the United

States. Mr Jiang told Mr Milosevic that

bilateral ties had clearly withstood the test

of time and that China "respects the

choices of the Yugoslav people,

appreciates the nation's independent

domestic and foreign policies and admires

the indomitable spirit of its people".

Premier Zhu, who had paid for his

friendship to the Yugoslavs earlier in his

career, praised Mr Milosevic as a

"statesman" and the two countries signed a

joint statement in which Belgrade

recognised Beijing's claims to Taiwan.

Afterwards there were reports, which were

denied, that China had agreed to sell

medium-range missiles to Serbia.

China's role in the former Yugoslavia

became more prominent in February,

when the new breakaway state of

Macedonia declared it would recognise

Taiwan, not Beijing. Taiwan had

reportedly promised US$300 million

(HK$2.3 billion) in aid and proposed

investments worth US$1.6 billion.

Consequently, Beijing used its UN veto to

block the renewal of the mandate for a UN

peacekeeping force stationed in

Macedonia. Instead the force, largely of

European troops, became the Nato force

which is now helping refugees.

Beijing is now praising Mr Milosevic as a

war hero. Party newspapers are full of

articles comparing his resistance to Nato

airstrikes to that of Tito's heroic exploits

against the Nazi war machine. Photos of

US President Bill Clinton in newspapers

show him with a short Hitler moustache

looking down on a sea of fire.

But the Worker's Daily calls Mr Milosevic

"a man with iron in his blood" and said

people were gasping with admiration.

"Not only is he tough in action but shows a

rare loyalty to the Communist Party," it

said, adding he had "a very nice and

capable wife whose parents were both

intimate colleagues of Tito".

Chinese experts appear on mainland

television news night after night praising

his record as a peace-maker in

Bosnia-Herzegovina and casting him as a

victim of American hegemonism. "He is

only made a war criminal by Western

countries because he refused to make

concessions on Kosovo," the newspaper


The People's Daily lays the entire blame

for the crisis on Nato. "All people with a

conscience now realise that Nato which

claims to 'relieve humanitarian disasters' is

actually creating new ones. The civilians of

Yugoslavia are the biggest victims of

Nato's naked invasion," it said in an


Nato is accused of using the crisis to try

out new weapons. Experts like Professor

Zhang Zhaozhong, of the National

Defence University, said: "Nato is

ridiculous. The refugee exodus was caused

by its airstrike and now it is saying that it

has to keep bombing so as to stop the

refugee exodus."

Even Soccer News has urged football

teams to learn from the heroic Serbs. "The

guerilla war and team spirit shown by

heroes like Tito are now being displayed. It

is amazing to see how much support they

give to their leader Milosevic. Wanda

football team should learn from them so as

to fight their way out of trouble," it said.

When the coach of Shandong's team, the

former national coach of Yugoslavia,

appeared in the stadium, the paper

reported thousands stood chanting

pro-Yugoslavian slogans.

The Beijing Daily printed slogans for fans

to shout at the Workers' Stadium: "Victory

to Yugoslavia", "Yugoslavia straighten

your back and stride forward", and

"Balkan Peace Now".

Most ordinary Chinese also say they

support the government's position and

blame the US for the war although a few

are puzzled why allied bombing of Iraq

failed to produce such a refugee crisis.

The argument that the leader of any state

is justified in doing whatever necessary to

stop ethnic separatist movements is widely


Yet despite public support, Beijing has

been careful to do nothing to actually help

either the Serbs or the Albanians, offering

no financial or material aid. Attempts by

pro-Serbian supporters to stage rallies

outside the American Embassy were also

quickly stopped.

"The Chinese are ready to defend Serbia

down to the last Russian," joked one

observer. Premier Zhu noticeably did not

cancel his visit to the US as his Russian

counterpart Yevgeny Primakov did.

China is determined to oppose Nato

becoming the "world's policeman" with a

mandate to intervene anywhere in the

world in defence of human rights and

democracy. It is worried that a similar

military alliance, between America and

Japan, could use the Kosovo crisis as

precedent to intervene one day on behalf

of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its

own breakaway province.

Of course, the crisis in Europe helps to

distract the Americans from the Taiwan

issue and other potential ethnic disputes in

Xinjiang, Tibet and the rest of the region.

But what the Kosovo crisis threatens most

is Beijing's view of history, that the

collapse of the Soviet Union and the web

of alliances in Europe brought an end to

the Cold War - in response to those who

would now paint Beijing as the enemy.

Mainland foreign affairs experts tell

television audiences that Nato, which it

was expected would dissolve after the

USSR break-up, is deliberately fostering

the Kosovo crisis in order to finally crush

the communist state in Europe.

With Serbia cast in the role that Albania

once was, as the last Stalinists in Europe,

an impression is conveyed of history

repeating itself, with China keen to

demonstrate it has an isolated, small, but

doughty ideological friend in the Balkans.

Only the names have changed since the

1950s but then how many Chinese are

going to remember just who those far

away Albanians and Serbs really are?

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