Presidents Tony Tan Keng Yam and Francois Hollande toast to strong Singapore-France ties

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President Tony Tan and his French counterpart Francois Hollande inspect the guard before a state dinner on March 26, 2017. ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

SINGAPORE - France and Singapore share a special friendship, their heads of state said on Sunday (March 26), as President Tony Tan Keng Yam hosted visiting French President Francois Hollande to a state banquet.

Their relationship dates back long before Singapore's independence, and ties between the two countries today are so close that it is not difficult to spot French influences here, Dr Tan said in his speech at the dinner where both leaders highlighted the strong ties.

St Joseph's Institution, which Dr Tan attended and is one of Singapore's oldest schools, was set up by the La Salle brothers and a priest from Brittany in 1852.

Today, 165 years later, many Singaporeans take Alstom MRT trains to get to work.

Some even 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," Dr Tan added.

At the same time, about 15,000 French nationals make Singapore their second home.

He said the bilateral relationship had made great strides during the presidency of Mr Hollande - the first sitting French president to make a state visit to Singapore - and highlighted the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership, which both countries signed in 2012.

Since then, the two countries have deepened cooperation, not only in traditional areas like defence, trade, education and culture, but also in emerging areas such as space technology, renewable energies and nuclear safety, Dr Tan said.

Five years on, Mr Hollande's visit is "a fitting occasion to inject new impetus into our bilateral cooperation in innovation - a priority area of our respective national growth strategies", said Dr Tan.

He noted that the two countries will sign an agreement on Monday (March 27) that will pave the way for more collaboration in fields like financial technology, 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, said Dr Tan.

He said Singapore "deeply appreciates France's strong support for the RSAF's fighter pilot training in Cazaux, which will mark its 20th anniversary next year," while France's yearly Voilah! festival has become an important highlight in Singapore's cultural calendar.

"Singaporean artists are also increasingly making their presence felt in France," he said, citing the urban art "Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered" Exhibition, that will be featured in Paris next month.

"At a time when the global political and economic environment is uncertain, many governments are facing pressures to turn inwards," he said.

"Against this backdrop, being able to work with reliable friends is more important than ever. France is such a friend of Singapore," Dr Tan said, citing the Strategic Partnership between both countries.

He added that the ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement would reinforce the countries' joint belief 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," he added.

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