Danube bridge said to be first major China-built infrastructure project in Europe opens

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang (right) waves next to Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic (left) during the opening ceremony of Europe's first Chinese-built project near Belgrade on Dec 18, 2014. The Chinese and Serbian prime ministers inaugu
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang (right) waves next to Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic (left) during the opening ceremony of Europe's first Chinese-built project near Belgrade on Dec 18, 2014. The Chinese and Serbian prime ministers inaugurated Thursday a brand new, multi-million-euro bridge over the Danube, described as the first major Chinese-built infrastructure project in Europe. -- PHOTO: AFP

BELGRADE (AFP) - The Chinese and Serbian prime ministers inaugurated Thursday a brand new, multi-million-euro bridge over the Danube, described as the first major Chinese-built infrastructure project in Europe.

"I would like to congratulate all those - Chinese and Serbs - who participated in the construction of this bridge, which represents a big success," Premier Li Keqiang said.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said it was an "honour" to inaugurate the bridge, adding it was the "the first feat of Chinese builders in Europe".

The 136.5 million-euro (S$221 million), 1.5-kilometre span is part of a motorway around the Serbian capital and comes as China boosts trade as well as investment in eastern and central Europe.

China signed a 1.5-billion-euro deal Wednesday to finance a high-speed bullet train between Budapest and Belgrade, a key link in Beijing's expanding network for getting its goods to European markets.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said recently that trade with eastern Europe could exceed US$60 billion (S$75 billion) in 2014, up US$4.9 billion on last year.

China has invested billions of euros in Hungary and Serbia, but much less so in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic states.

However, some countries including Poland hope to increase exports to China, in particular of food, after Russia slapped a ban on food imports in retaliation for European Union sanctions over Moscow's role in the Ukrainian conflict.