Over the weekend, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid an official visit to France. While the agenda for the visit was wide-ranging and saw a series of engagements, including Lee being a guest of honor to attend the Bastille Day parade on July 14, the trip also spotlighted the ongoing defense relationship between France and Singapore in a significant year for ties amid broader regional and global trends.
As I have noted previously in these pages, France and Singapore have long had a broad-based relationship that has covered a range of areas including trade, education, and research and was elevated to a strategic partnership back in 2012. On the defense side, one of the key features of he relationship is that France has provided the city-state’s air force with space to train at Cazaux Air Base.
2018 has been billed a significant year for relations, with it marking the 20th anniversary of the SAF’s Advanced Jet Training in Cazaux Air Base on the defense side and, 2018 billed the France-Singapore Year of Innovation, dating back to last year when former President Francois Hollande had paid a state visit to Singapore in March before he was replaced by Emmanuel Macron.
Over the weekend, in another key development this year for ties, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a visit to France. The official visit, which lasted from July 13 to July 15, saw Lee and his delegation meet with several French officials including Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, and the inking of a series of agreements in areas such as digital innovation, artificial intelligence, research and development, and education. His trip also had a series of other engagements, including being a guest of honor at the French National Day parade on July 14 and meeting with French industry leaders and overseas Singaporeans.
On the defense side, as noted earlier, the key development was the 20th anniversary of the RSAF’s Advanced Jet Training in Cazaux Air Base, and there were a number of activities that were held led by Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on the Singapore side. The activities included the unveiling of the 20th anniversary tail flash on an M-346 aircraft, which had been inaugurated by Ng back in September 2014, and a combined flypast by the RSAF’s M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft and FAF’s Alpha Jets.
In an address tied to the commemoration, Ng recalled the importance of the Cazaux Air Base for Singapore, noting that in two decades, the airspace, which was 32 times the size of the whole of Singapore, provided an opportunity for 190 of the city-state’s pilots to hone their flying skills and train alongside highly skilled French pilots, clocking in more than forty thousand hours of flight training.
Apart from the engagements ties to the Cazaux Air Base anniversary commemoration, Singapore-France defense ties were also a focus during the meetings that were held during Lee’s visit, including the one between Ng and the French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly.
In addition, during Lee’s visit, it was confirmed that Macron would be the keynote speaker at the 2019 iteration of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier security summit. Macron’s appearance will not only mean an additional opportunity to boost Singapore-France relations, but also draw attention to France’s own growing focus on the Indo-Pacific amid a series of broader regional and global developments, including, among others, China’s continued maritime assertiveness and uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration despite its unveiling of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy