>> Perched on top of massive concrete pillars, Chinese workers are helping the small European country of Montenegro realize a dream, but there are fears that could turn into a nightmare. This is the first stage of the Bar-Boljare Highway, a multi-billion dollar project that's been closely watched by the European Union amid growing anxiety over China's influence in Eastern European and Balkan states.
Reuters Noah Barkin went to have a look.>> I'm standing above the Moraca river canyon outside the Montenegrin capital of Pokoritza where China Road and Bridge Corporation is building what the Montenegrin government has called the project of the century, a highway stretching from the coast of Montenegro in Bar all the way to the Serbian border.
>> As China extends it's economic reach under the Balkan Road initiative, poor countries across Asia and Africa have seize on attractive Chinese loans to develop infrastructure projects that would not have been possible otherwise. But some countries, such as Sir Lanka, Djibouti, and Mongolia have found themselves weighed down by debt and ever more reliant on Beijing.
Montenegro, which aspires to EU membership, is the first European country to find itself in this position. In a rush to get started on the 100 mile highway, the Montenegrin government accepted a take it or leave it offer from China to build the first 25 mile section. Most of that deal was funded by an 809 million euro loan from China, and that sent Montenegro's debt spiraling.
And the IMF says the country cannot afford to take on any more debt to finish the ambitious project. That likely means a difficult choice for the government, put its grand project on hold leaving a costly highway to nowhere in the middle of the country, or double down on its pact with China, accepting greater risk and financial dependency further down the road.