A major European Union-funded bridge built by a Chinese company has been connected over the Adriatic Sea, linking two swaths of the Croatian coastline that are divided by a small stretch of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory.
A midnight opening ceremony featuring folk dancers, singing and a huge fireworks display was held on Wednesday on the Peljesac Bridge after the final segment of its span was installed.
The construction, at a cost of 420 million euros ($500m), is 85 percent financed by the EU and is a rare Chinese project in Europe that went through a regular bidding process.
During the ceremony, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the bridge represents “a fascinating strategic accomplishment of the Croatian people and their state” that fulfils their longtime dream to have the Adriatic coastline connected.
“I really think this is a huge event for Croatia, Croatian people, for our friends in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said.
“We connected what we call modern sovereignty, a very clear project with which we are realising strategic interests, realised at the moment when we strengthened our international position and enriched it with the membership in the European Union.”
The bridge and its connecting roads are expected to be fully completed by June next year.
Until then, road travellers wanting to visit some of Croatia’s most attractive tourist destinations, such as the Old Town section of Dubrovnik, will still have to pass through two border checkpoints between Bosnia and Croatia at the Bosnian seaside port of Neum.
Plenkovic said the bridge will not divide, but it will connect people and nations.
“The bridge does not connect only Croatia, but it connects the EU as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina,” he said.
But the project has angered Bosnian officials, who claim the bridge violates the state’s sovereign access to open seas in the Adriatic.
The construction began in July 2018 after the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) won an international bid to construct a 2.4km (1.5 miles) long bridge.
In recent years, China has been pouring funds into Central and Eastern European countries as part of its strategic Belt and Road Initiative 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 its economic and political clout in the region, which is still reeling from the bloody 1990s’ breakup of the former Yugoslavia.