Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the State Banquet hosted in honour of the President of the French Republic François Hollande at the Istana held on 26 March 2017

Your Excellency François Hollande

President of the French Republic

Ministers

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour to welcome President François Hollande to Singapore.  This is a significant visit, as it is the first State Visit by a French President to Singapore. I am delighted to be able to reciprocate the warm hospitality received during my State Visit to France in May 2015.  My wife and I have very fond memories of that visit.

France is a special friend of Singapore.  When Singapore was newly independent in 1965, France was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore. 

Even before establishing diplomatic ties, the two countries had a long history of cooperation and interaction.  One of Singapore’s oldest schools, St Joseph’s institution, owes its establishment to the French La Salle Brothers and a French priest from Brittany.  I am a proud “Old Boy” of the school, which has helped educate and shape the character of many generations of Singapore youths. 

Today, Singapore and France enjoy strong bilateral relations.  The two countries share deep economic cooperation.  France was Singapore’s second largest trading partner in the EU in 2016, and Singapore’s 6th largest investor from the EU.  There are more than 1,800 French enterprises in Singapore, and some 15,000 French nationals make Singapore their second home.  The ties between our two countries are so close that it is not difficult to see France’s influence in Singapore.   To get to work, many Singaporeans take Alstom MRT trains, or drive Peugeot or Renault cars.  Not too long from now, they will also be able to participate in an electric car-sharing programme run by French transportation company, Bolloré.

I would like to acknowledge the strides made in the bilateral relationship between our two countries during Your Excellency’s Presidency.  Most notable was the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership signed in 2012 during the official visit of then-Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to Singapore.  Since then, Singapore and France have deepened cooperation not only in traditional areas such as defence, trade and investment, education and culture, but also in emerging areas including space technology, renewable energies and nuclear safety.  

As 2017 marks the 5th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership, this State Visit is a fitting occasion to inject new impetus into our bilateral cooperation in innovation, a priority area of our respective national growth strategies.  I therefore welcome the Singapore-France Innovation Forum which will be held tomorrow morning, as well as the release of the Singapore-France Joint Declaration on Innovation, which will pave the way for greater collaborations in areas such as FinTech, digital engineering, smart cities planning, and health and biomedical sciences. 

Singapore’s cooperation with France in defence, security and culture has also strengthened in recent years.  Singapore deeply appreciates France’s strong support for the RSAF’s fighter pilot training in Cazaux, which will mark its 20th anniversary next year.  In addition, our two countries have stepped up collaboration in areas such as counter-terrorism and cybersecurity.  Cultural collaborations have also deepened since the signing of the MOU on Cultural Cooperation in 2009.  France’s yearly Voilah! festival – a celebration of French cuisine and culture – has become an important highlight in Singapore’s cultural calendar.  Singaporean artists are also increasingly making their presence felt in France. One such example is the “Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered” Exhibition, a showcase of urban art from Singapore, which will be featured in the Urban Art Fair in Paris next month. 

At a time when the global political and economic environment is uncertain, many governments are facing pressures to turn inwards.  Against this backdrop, being able to work with reliable friends is more important than ever.  France is such a friend of Singapore. Our Strategic Partnership is a compact of shared values which represent our common vision of a world embracing openness, multilateralism, globalisation and the rule of law.  The ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will reinforce the joint belief of Singapore and France that free and open trade will bring tangible benefits to our peoples. 

Singapore also looks forward to France’s support for the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement which will strengthen air connections between our two regions, and signal the value both our countries place on having a connected world rather than a fragmented one. 

I am confident that Your Excellency’s State Visit to Singapore will succeed in taking the multifaceted partnership and friendship between Singapore and France to a new level, and chart a promising course forward for our two countries and peoples.  

Your Excellency

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I invite you to rise and join me in a toast to the French Republic, to President François Hollande, and to the people of France. 

Thank you.