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Is romance dead? France seeks new image in China

Iron ore and steel prices may not take off even with a massive infrastructure investment in China.
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France's finance minister will attempt this week to persuade Chinese officials to set aside their romantic image of his country and focus instead on its industrial prowess.

"The Chinese often say France is very romantic. That's what you're told 20 times a day when you're in Beijing," a top French official said on Tuesday, two days before minister Michel Sapin begins a trip to Beijing and Shanghai.

"It feels nice at the beginning, but then you dig a little," the source added. "One day I was told French cars were romantic. I asked what it meant, and they said 'not completely reliable'."

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Although no major contract is expected to be signed during Sapin's visit, sources said, he will go out of his way to convince Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai of France's efforts to boost its competitiveness.

Top executives from leading companies Engie, Areva, Credit Agricole, Carrefour and PSA Peugeot Citroen will accompany Sapin on the trip, which precedes a visit by President Francois Hollande in November.

France ran a 25 billion euro ($28 billion) trade deficit with China in 2013.

Its market share stood at 1.18 percent, compared with 4.8 percent for Germany, official French data showed.

"They think of France in terms of lifestyle, luxury, nuclear technology. But they don't necessarily think about its industrial creativity, its engineers. When you say industrial quality, they immediately think Germany," the source said.

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However, Sapin will also have to reassure China over setbacks in the construction of power company EDF's EPR nuclear reactor in Normandy, whose completion was again delayed this month, weighing heavily on the French nuclear industry's reputation.

Two similar EPR reactors are being built in China.

Sapin will also touch upon the role of Paris as an offshore trading center for China's renminbi, another official said, and brief his counterpart on the situation in the euro zone.