The area is key to China's Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to link China by sea and land with Southeast and Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the old Silk Road. "We hope that ... cooperation (with Central and Eastern European countries) will bring China closer to the European Union," Prime Minister Li Kequianq said at a summit in the coastal Croatian town of Dubrovnik.
Chinese companies have been active in the Balkans for several years, helping build roads, bridges and other infrastructure. However, construction of the Peljesac bridge in Croatia marks the first time it has undertaken such a project within the EU, which Croatia joined in 2013. Li arrived in the country on Wednesday, meeting with officials from 16 central European countries: 11 EU members and five Western Balkan states which aspire to join the bloc.
This year Greece, where Chinese shipping giant COSCO holds a majority stake in Piraeus Port, joined the group for the first time. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it was important for the region to leave behind recent crises and conflicts and cooperate both regionally and globally.
The European countries agreed to provide a fair and just environment and a level playing field for foreign companies doing business in the region. They also pledged to promote cooperation in infrastructure, agriculture, science, technology and education.
"China is a country which certainly can be competitive...we intend to cooperate and respect European standards," Li said. "We all have the need to increase trade and connect our economies," he added.
Earlier this week, at a summit with EU member states in Brussels, China agreed to address the bloc's concerns over state subsidies to industrial firms. The next summit between China and Central European countries will be held in China next year.
(With inputs from agencies.)