China enlarges its circle in Europe, and tries to convince Europeans it comes in peace

CHINA : China’s premier surveyed construction of a long-sought bridge over Croatia’s Mali Ston Bay, home to China’s largest infrastructure project in Europe — built by a Chinese company with Chinese workers, and financed in large part by European Union money.

A driving rain lashed the hills while the premier, Li Keqiang, was there Thursday. But, Li declared. “This bridge will be a rainbow on earth.”

The reassuring language was part of a broader effort to convince increasingly skeptical European nations that China comes in peace.

The thickening ranks of China’s economic allies have left European officials increasingly wary. Last month, Italy formally signed on to China’s vast ‘‘One Belt, One Road’’ project, new Silk Road into Europe. On Friday, the summit meeting was capped by Greece’s announcement that it had joined, too.

That does not mean that all is roses even between China and its newly forged economic allies in the group. But by aggressively courting the nations on Europe’s eastern and southern flank, Western officials worry that China is stoking division within the European Union.

Li has tried all week to allay those concerns, promising progress on fair-trade issues with Europe, even as he pursues deeper cooperation.

“This is not Game of Thrones,” Li said upon arriving in Croatia this week, referring to the HBO hit series, which was filmed in part in Dubrovnik, where the summit meeting was held. “This is a reflection of win-win cooperation.”

The 16 plus 1 Group was formed after Premier Wen Jiabao’s historic visit to Poland in 2012. At the time, many countries in the region felt left out of Brussels’ negotiations with China. The grouping was framed by Beijing as an opportunity to give them a greater voice.

Skeptics immediately suspected that China had other intentions, but the economic benefits of trade with China have been hard to resist. That has been so even for Germany and France, which have not formally signed on to Belt and Road, let alone Italy or Greece, which are desperate for investment.