BRIJESTA, Croatia (AP) — China's prime minister visited a construction site in Croatia on Thursday where a major European Union-funded bridge is being built by a Chinese state-owned company.
The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) in 2018 won an international bid to construct a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) long bridge over the Adriatic Sea.
The 420 million euro ($473 million) construction is 85% financed by the EU, and is a rare Chinese project in Europe that went through a regular bidding process.
EU member Croatia is hosting a two-day summit between China and 16 regional countries on expanding business between China and the region, which is dubbed 16+1.
"The (Peljesac) bridge is a pilot project, both for cooperation between 16+1 countries and for cooperation between China and the European Union because a Chinese company had won an open tender for its construction in a fair competition," said Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Describing the construction of the bridge as "the biggest and the most important" infrastructure project in his country, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said it was also a guarantee of future cooperation between Zagreb and Beijing.
The construction is set to be completed in January 2021. Once completed, it will reunite Croatia's territory by connecting the region around the southern resort city of Dubrovnik with the rest of the mainland Croatia. The two parts of Croatia are currently divided by a small stretch of Bosnian territory.
In recent years, Beijing has been pouring in funds into the Central and Eastern European countries as part of its strategic Belt and Road project, which includes upgrading infrastructure and is aimed at creating a network of transport and trade links between China and Europe.
EU officials, however, worry that the Chinese investments boost the Asian country's economic and political clout in the region.