Over the weekend, French President Francois Hollande kicked off a Southeast Asian tour that will see him visit Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in quick succession.
Hollande’s ASEAN tour began Sunday with the first leg in Singapore. Singapore and France already enjoy a broad-based relationship that covers a range of fields including trade, defense, and education and research. France has provided the city-state’s air force with space to train at Cazaux Air Base for nearly two decades, and as of last year was Singapore’s second-largest trading partner within the European Union. The two sides had further elevated their ties to a strategic partnership back in 2012.
Hollande’s trip to the city-state was geared toward further strengthening the bilateral relationship, especially on the economic side. During his Singapore trip, Hollande, who was accompanied by Secretary of State for Industry Christophe Sirugue, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and dozens of business leaders, met with top Singapore officials including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He also delivered the 40th Singapore Lecture entitled “France and Singapore: Strategic Partners in a Fast-Changing World,” where he urged countries to battle inward-looking policies and defend globalization.
Deliverables on the trip centered around the theme of innovation. The two sides issued a Joint Declaration on Innovation following the visit, which highlighted how they would deepen ties in this area, including in healthcare, financial technology (fintech), smart cities, space technology, and research and education. They also designated 2018 as the “France-Singapore Year of Innovation.”
Hollande is the first sitting French president to visit Singapore. His current Asia voyage, which continues to Malaysia and Indonesia until Wednesday this week, is also likely his last, with his five-year term set to end in May.
Following the election of Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s vote to leave the EU, France faces its own upcoming election test on where the country stands on globalization and multilateralism. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Euroskeptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party, is competing against centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and conservative Francois Fillon. Polls currently indicate that Le Pen will make it past the first round of the presidential election on April 23 but lose to Macron in the runoff on May 7.