Chinese investors have a powerful attraction to companies in the European Union, and their targets are increasingly high-profile. In recent days, they've shown interest in an 18-building compound on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz and in the Italian tire-maker Pirelli. For some unfathomable reason, Europe considers Chinese investors, even state-owned ones, more benign than, say, Russian ones.

Until 2011, China was mostly a receiver of European investment, but then the debt crisis drove down asset prices. Some governments became desperate to privatize, and venerable corporations got less picky about potential investors. Chinese buyers acquired Volvo in Sweden, a large stake in Peugeot Citroen and fashion house Sonya Rykiel in France, the Piraeus Port in Greece, Pizza Express restaurants and the upscale clothing maker Aquascutum in the United Kingdom. Chinese investment increased exponentially:

Last year — when the Peugeot and Pizza Express deals were made — Chinese merger and acquisition activity in Europe set a new record. Although Chinese investment in the U.S. has also grown, outstripping U.S. flows into China, Europe has proved more welcoming.