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Europe for Sale

PARIS – In Shakespeare’s plays, comedy often meets tragedy. Perhaps Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reflected on this as he watched a performance of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon during his recent European tour. And, apropos the play, he may have been thinking: “To buy or not to buy?” In Bulgaria last March, one of his ministers quipped that “there will always be someone pointing fingers at us, whether or not we buy.” But, as Wen’s trip to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Hungary showed, China is indeed buying – and European Union leaders are eagerly selling.

Wen’s tour provided some absurd plot twists. In Budapest, he praised Sandor Petofi, whose nineteenth-century ode to freedom is a Hungarian national treasure, while Viktor Orban, Hungary’s rightist prime minister, lauded China for supposedly including Petofi in high school curricula. That seems unlikely: in one of his most famous speeches, delivered in February 1957, in the wake of Hungary’s anti-Soviet revolution, Mao excoriated the “Petofi club.” He lamented that the Hungarian communists “had killed virtually no counterrevolutionaries: that’s why there was a Hungarian incident”; and he fully supported the Soviets’ brutal repression of the uprising.