On April 10th, China’s Premier Li Keqiang celebrated the completion of the 1st phase of the 2.5 kilometer Chinese-built Pelgesac Bridge in Croatia across the Bay of Mali Ston alongside Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. This ceremony marked a striking victory as the following day ushered in an important 16+1 Heads of State summit that saw Greece inducted as the newest member of a new alliance of Central and Eastern European nations who wish to cooperate with China. At this summit held on April 12, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated that this was “a very crucial moment for global and regional developments” and “we have to leave behind the crisis and find new models of regional and global cooperation.”
Of course, Greece’s involvement in this alliance (now renamed the 17+1 CEEC) has broadened its geographical boundaries to the west and is especially important as Greece’s Port of Piraeus is a strategic east-west trade gate way for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into Europe centered on the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Route. Greece is painfully aware that its survival depends upon China’s BRI, as the EU programs for austerity, privatization and bailouts have brought only death and despair with a collapse of youth employment, crime rate spikes and suicide. It is also not lost on anyone that this breakthrough follows hot on the heels of Italy’s joining of the Belt and Road Initiative on March 26 and also serves as a precursor to the second Belt and Road Summit which will take place in Beijing at the end of April, involving over 126 nations who have already signed MOUs with the BRI and thousands of international businesses.
Ten additional BRI-connected agreements were signed between Croatia and China before the 17+1 Summit including the modernizing of rail lines (especially from Zagreb to the Adriatic port of Rijeka), telecommunications cooperation between Huawei and Croatian Telecom and major port, roads, harbors, education and cultural cooperation.
The Belt and Road Initiative, as Tsipras aptly pointed out, is not just another set of infrastructure programs designed to counterbalance western hegemony,