Solid partnership built up by S'pore and France over the years, says President Tony Tan

French president Francois Hollande (centre, right) speaking with President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre, left) during an official dinner in his honour at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris, France on May 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
French president Francois Hollande (centre, right) speaking with President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre, left) during an official dinner in his honour at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris, France on May 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

PARIS - While France and Singapore differ in their history, geography and socio-cultural context, they have built up a solid partnership over the decades.

And as the countries mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, these ties of friendship will hopefully continue to endure, Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam said here.

He was speaking at a state banquet on Monday night held in his honour by his French counterpart Francoise Hollande.

In a hall replete with chandeliers and gilded cornices at the Elysee Palace, Dr Tan, who is in France on a seven-day state visit, spoke about the range of areas that both countries have worked closely in - from business to education, scientific research to defence.

Trade and investment between the two countries has been robust, making Singapore France's largest export destination in South-east Asia, and its third largest in Asia, after giants Japan and China.

For Singapore, France is the third largest trading partner and fifth largest investor among European Union member-states.

More than 1,400 French companies are registered in Singapore, and Singapore companies, too, are well-established in France.

One example Dr Tan cited was The Ascott, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore real estate company CapitaLand. It owns and manages the Citadines brand of serviced residences, which populates prime locations in France.

And Singapore Airlines, Dr Tan pointed out, was the first airline to purchase the Airbus A380, a double-decked, wide-body, four-engine jet manufactured by Airbus, which is based in France.

A detachment of Republic of Singapore Air Force personnel at Cazaux Air Base near Bordeaux since 1998 also demonstrates the strength of both countries' cooperation when it comes to defence, too, said Dr Tan.

He last visited the base in 1998, when he was deputy prime minister and defence minister, and is looking forward to visiting it again later in the week.

France and Singapore elevated their relations to a strategic partnership in 2012 - Singapore's second after the United States.

In his remarks, Mr Hollande also spoke of "the long tradition of friendship" between the two sides and of their strategic partnership.

Recalling Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit in 2013, during which both countries reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability in the region, the French leader said on Monday that his country remained fully committed to security in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We shall also continue to work with Asean and Singapore on common threats, particularly terrorist and foreign fighters. For this reason, we have decided to strengthen our intelligence action," he said.

He also spoke of the importance of expanding economic links - and mentioned opportunities in transport, including the high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

On Monday morning, the two presidents witnessed the signing of several agreements to deepen partnership and bring cooperation into new areas such as space technology, cyber security, renewable energy and nuclear safety.

At the dinner, Dr Tan also paid tribute to Frenchmen who had a hand in Singapore's early years. One was Reverend Father Jean-Marie Beurel, a French Catholic missionary who in 1852 established St Joseph's Institution, Singapore's oldest Catholic School and Dr Tan's alma mater.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers, whose legacies live on," he said.

Today, over 15,000 French citizens have made Singapore their home - one of the largest French communities in Asia.

"They add to the diversity and vibrancy of Singapore," he added.

And Singaporeans, too, have made France their home, and contributed to the country in areas ranging from science to the creative arts, he noted.

"As Singapore embarks on our next fifty years as a nation, it is my sincere hope that the partnership and ties of friendship between our two countries and people will continue to flourish and endure."

asyiqins@sph.com.sg