Ardi Pulaj

At a time when Albania has made its pro-Western position clear, as a candidate country for the European Union and as a powerful ally of the United States of America, China’s influence, even though in the form of a “soft power” , is present in Albania, but also where there are Albanian speakers. This fact shows how China is also using the teaching of the Chinese language to spread its propaganda.

For anyone who has started to learn a foreign language, the word ” farce ” is not the first word that comes to mind to include in their new vocabulary. We focus more on the words that would enable a simple and basic communication. But this is not the case when it comes to Chinese.

The website of China Foreign Radio (also known as CRI Shqip), has as one of its sections the teaching of Chinese, but at its advanced level. On August 4, 2022, the radio published a lesson on the word ” farce ” (in Chinese闹剧—[n à oj ù ]) online. The choice of this word was not accidental. CRI Shqip was triggered by the fact that China conducted a series of joint naval and air maneuvers around the island of Taiwan, as a reaction — as CRI Shqip writes— to the ” farcical ” visit of the speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in the Taiwan region of China, which is considered a reckless and provocative act. A long text is also accompanied by its audio version.

Clearly, the primary purpose of this text was not simply for the Albanian-speaking public to learn how to say ” farce ” in Chinese, but mostly to convey the official attitude of Beijing towards the visit of the senior American politician to Taiwan.

For context, China views Taiwan as its own, breakaway province that will one day eventually come back under Beijing’s control. However, the self-governing island sees itself as distinct from the mainland, with its own constitution and democratically elected leaders. China’s President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be accomplished” – and has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve it.

In the parts of the text where the word ” farce ” is mentioned that Albanian-speaking listeners should learn in Chinese, as the purpose of the column, this message is also conveyed: “State Counselor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi described Pelosi’s visit as ‘ completely a farce ‘ and warned that the US is violating China’s sovereignty under the guise of ‘democracy’”.

In the entire text, which is read in the audio version for over six minutes, the word ” farce ” is mentioned only three times in total, many times less than the propagandistic messages that China will convey to the Albanian-speaking audience.

Journalist Leftioni Peristere, who previously worked for China Foreign Radio in Beijing, tells Faktoje that this type of propaganda, disguised as language learning, comes after

China wants its place in the globalized world.

“It seeks to rise to the level of other world powers. Learning Chinese comes with the background of using soft power. This is to show that China, despite being a non-democratic state, has an old language and a rich culture. It has been found as a way for propaganda to take its place even in columns that seem to say ‘Learning Chinese’ when you see them on the Internet and to reach precisely the audience that will stay away from politics in general,” says Peristere.

From Beijing to Tirana

An important part of the way of communication and influence of China Foreign Radio on the Albanian public, in addition to conveying political messages, is also the evidence of the friendship between the two peoples and the close historical ties, through the stories of the Chinese who have worked in or visited Albania and Albanians in China. With the advancement of technology and the advancement of communication methods, China is also present in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, social media which are officially prohibited within the Chinese territory. In addition to the development of the website and the FM broadcast, China Foreign Radio, the Albanian section, has paid close attention to its presence on social networks.

The official page of CRI Shqip on Facebook, Radio Ejani , labeled by the social network as media controlled by the Chinese state, offers to the Albanian-speaking audience, content from politics, economy, tourism, international developments from the Chinese point of view, customs and culture, development and the transformation of Chinese metropolises over the years, traditional Chinese medicine, or even the famous pandas of the Sichuan region, are all part of influencing through soft power.

Photo taken from the post on Radio Ejani’s Facebook page

But has China achieved its propaganda goal towards the Albanian-speaking audience and how has it affected it? Journalist Leftioni Peristere analyzes for Faktoje:

“I have often come across readers’ comments on news that are shared on Facebook. They are mostly positive and deal with the facade, for example: ‘How beautifully a road has been built in the Xinjiang region and the propaganda has had its effect, because the deportation of over 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims is overlooked ,’ says Peristere.

Another form of influence on the public are the Chinese language courses from the Confucius Institutes,

Some time ago, most of them were closed in the United States of America, after being designated as a “foreign mission” by the State Department. Cases of their closure have also been noted in Europe, amid accusations of censorship and espionage.

“Chinese language courses have seen continuous growth. This shows that China has succeeded in projecting itself as a rising power. There have been statements in the past that foreign students of Chinese are also taught about China’s political system, which Beijing calls a democracy with Chinese characteristics. Here it is important to mention the word democracy and to inculcate the idea that countries do not necessarily have the same system of government. Or avoiding discussions about Tibet, or other topics. For example, the suppression of human rights is completely overlooked here. So, it is a specially structured curriculum that is part of the narrative that Beijing will convey as ‘soft power’ even through Chinese language courses,” says journalist Peristere for Faktoje.

*This content is produced as part of the regional initiative Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub