China’s spreading influence in Eastern Europe worries West

In this photo taken Friday, March 1, 2019, a woman walks by Chinese flag placed on a street in Belgrade, Serbia. Chinese investments have been booming throughout Central and Eastern Europe's cash-strapped developing countries, even as European Union officials scramble to counter Beijing's mounting economic and political influence the EU has branded a ''systematic rival.'' (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Construction of infrastructure such as power plants, mobile networks and bridges is booming throughout cash-strapped countries in central and eastern Europe thanks to Chinese funding, which has the European Union scrambling to counter Beijing’s mounting influence.

Croatia is hosting a summit on Thursday for 16 European countries with developing economies and China. The gathering in Dubrovnik focuses on expanding business and other links between China and a region it sees as a gateway to Europe.

The countries that endorsed China’s global “Belt and Road” initiative already have seen billions of dollars in investments. Eleven are EU members.

Western leaders worry economic weight could give China political muscle in the region, and about projects funded with Chinese investments adhering to lower environmental and other standards than the EU’s.

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