Singapore, France Strengthen Defense Ties in Macron Era Amid Uncertainty

Ong Ye Kung paid a visit to France this week to reaffirm the bilateral defense relationship.

Singapore, France Strengthen Defense Ties in Macron Era Amid Uncertainty
Credit: MINDEF

Earlier this week, Singapore’s Second Minister for Defense Ong Ye Kung was on a visit to France. His trip, which saw him attend the 52nd International Paris Air Show and meet with a range of officials including new French President Emmanuel Macron, demonstrated the intention of both sides to strengthen cooperation despite uncertainty both at home and abroad.

As I have mentioned previously, Singapore and France already enjoy a broad-based relationship that covers not just defense, but a range of fields including trade 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.

In an indicator of Singapore’s importance within France’s broader Asia policy, former French President Francois Hollande paid a trip to the city-state in late March as part of a broader Southeast Asia tour that also included Malaysia and Indonesia (See: “France’s Hollande Kicks Off ASEAN Tour With Singapore Visit”). That trip came as France geared up for its presidential election, which pitted the centrist Macron against conservative France Fillon and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Euroskeptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party. Macron eventually won the contest in May, in a run-off against Le Pen.

Since then, both sides have had opportunities to reaffirm the Singapore-France defense relationship amid anxiety in the region regarding a more assertive China and an uncertainty about the role for of United States under Donald Trump (See: “What Mattis’ Shangri-La Dialogue Speech Revealed About Trump’s Asia Policy“). Macron’s Defense Minister Sylvie Goulard was in Singapore earlier this month, where she met with her counterparts in the city-state and delivered an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue stressing France’s commitment to Asia as well as the rules-based order, not just on security issues but also climate change (See: “The State of Asia’s Security Dialogues”).

This week, Ong paid his visit to France, which lasted from June 19 to June 22. During his visit, Ong met with French officials, including Macron and Goulard. During the Paris Air Show, which he attended, he graced the contract signing between Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Aerospace, and DHL Express for the conversion of four Airbus A330-300 passenger aircraft to 26-pallet cargo configuration freighters. He also visited the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Advanced Jet Training detachment at Cazaux Air Base on June 21.

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Singapore’s defense ministry said Ong’s visit underscored the “strong and broad-based defense relationship” between the two countries. But the trip was also overshadowed by domestic developments in France, as Goulard quit her job amid allegations that her center-right MoDem Party had misused public funds. Macron is expected to embark on a cabinet reshuffle soon before launching the economic and social reforms that were part of his candidacy.