Official Toast Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at the Reception to Commemorate Singapore’s 54th National Day and the Singapore Bicentennial at Le Pavillon Des Princes, Paris

Published Date: 05 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Honourable Members of the National Assembly and Senate,

Honourable leaders of local authorities,

Your Excellencies Ambassadors of ASEAN and ASEAN Partner countries in France, and their representatives,

Distinguished Guests and Friends of Singapore,

Fellow Singaporeans,

Mesdames et Messieurs,

1. Bonsoir! My wife and I are very pleased to be able to join you at this reception to celebrate Singapore’s 54th National Day.

2. Singapore’s National Day marks our independence on 9 August 1965. It was a period filled with uncertainties. Few believed that a small island, smaller than the surface of Lake Geneva at that time, with no hinterland and natural resources, would be viable, much less become the metropolis that it is today. Today, Singapore is an integral part of the global economy, a centre for finance, investment, trade, tourism and entertainment. It is multicultural and multi-religious, where people celebrate their diversity and live in harmony.

3. Our transition from third world to first in one generation, owes much to the support of foreign friends and partners who contributed to our development. We learned best practices from them. They, in turn, invested in us. At the same time, they helped to strengthen the international system, which undergirds a stable environment for small states like Singapore to grow and develop.


4. France is an important partner country for Singapore. It was the first European country to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore on 18 September 1965. Since then, our friendship has grown from strength to strength.

5. Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew laid the foundations. Through his regular visits to France, he forged close ties with a succession of French leaders, especially President Jacques Chirac. Prime Ministers Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, after him, also continued to invest in our bilateral relations.

  • PM Goh worked closely with PM Édouard Balladur to develop and promote the idea of the Asia-Europe Summit in 1994 to strengthen dialogue and mutual understanding between our regions.

  • PM Lee and PM Jean-Marc Ayrault upgraded our bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership in 2012. Five years later, PM Lee and President François Hollande built on this momentum and issued the France-Singapore Joint Declaration on Innovation. 2018 was the France-Singapore Year of Innovation during which we boosted our connectivity in innovation and start-up ecosystems.

  • Last year, bilateral relations reached new heights when President Emmanuel Macron accorded Singapore a special honour when he invited PM Lee to attend the 14 July Bastille Day parade as a Guest-of-Honour. The leaders also issued a Joint Roadmap for deepening cooperation in digital innovation, internet governance and cyber security.


6. Today, the France-Singapore partnership is broad-based, deep and concrete. France is Singapore’s 2nd largest trading partner in the EU, while Singapore is France’s top trading partner in ASEAN. Singapore hosts close to 2,000 French enterprises, several of which have set up Asia-Pacific HQs, including Airbus, Thales, Sanofi and Danone.

7. Singaporeans are also familiar with French brands. We take Alstom MRT trains to work; I just flew to Paris in an Airbus; ladies use L’Oreal cosmetics; we play games made by Ubisoft. The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, when ratified, will further enhance our economic partnership, and bring tremendous additional benefits to French companies in Singapore.

8. In technology, the potential for stronger partnership is particularly promising. We have already established reciprocal landing pads in each other’s markets, with the French Tech Singapore in Singapore, and the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) programme in France. GIA Paris is in fact Singapore’s first in Europe. And we will launch the France-Singapore Joint Committee on Science and Innovation later this year.


9. In defence and security, our co-operation is substantive and strategic. The centrepiece is the Singapore Air Force’s Advanced Jet Training detachment in Cazaux, set up in 1998, which I have visited twice. So we have a nice little community of Singaporeans in Cazaux, with many of their children attending the local school. So much so that the Ministry of Education posted a Mother Tongue language teacher to the school. Singapore and France also enjoy an equally long history of collaboration in defence technology.

10. Singapore also values the French Armed Forces’ contributions to Singapore Navy’s Information Fusion Centre, as well as the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre. Singapore built the Changi Naval Base, so that ships from major naval forces in the world can dock there and continue to be engaged in our region. France has been a regular user of the facility and we continue to welcome you. In fact, just last month, the French Navy’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was in Singapore as part of its five-month deployment and participated in bilateral exercises with both the Republic of Singapore Navy as well as Republic of Singapore Air Force. Some of our students also visited the ship.

11. Our homeland security agencies are working together to combat terrorism and other crimes. In 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore and the French Ministry of the Interior agreed to strengthen science and technology co-operation.

12. We have important exchanges in education. Singapore’s Mathematics Teaching method recently gained prominence in France, after National Assembly Deputy Cedric Villani recommended its implementation in French primary schools last year. A team of educators from my Ministry visited France last November to share our experiences in mathematics pedagogy. Now, I am here at France’s invitation, to attend the G7 Education Ministers Meeting as one of the outreach countries. Singapore universities have also expanded their student exchange and joint research programmes with their French counterparts.

13. And finally, we enjoy a rich cultural exchange with France. In 2017, the National Gallery of Singapore worked with Musée d’Orsay on a well-received exhibition entitled, “Century of Light”, featuring masterpieces from the 19th century. In February this year, we worked with the Paris Urban Art Fair to put together Urban Art Singapore, a three-week showcase of Singaporean street art and design in Paris.

14. 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the British to Singapore, which was a turning point in our history. By establishing Singapore as a free port, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles set Singapore on the path to becoming the multi-cultural, globally connected Asian city that we are today. But the Bicentennial is also an occasion for us to look beyond 1819, tracing the 700 years of the history of Singapore. Our Ambassador Zainal Mantaha will elaborate a little more on this, as well as on the contributions of France and French nationals in our nation-building journey.


15. In conclusion, Singapore is glad that we share a deep friendship with France, undergirded by our shared values, including our common belief in upholding the international system, multilateralism and rule of law. We live in uncertain times, and having a longstanding, reliable and mutually-beneficial partnership between like-minded countries has become more critical than ever. Singapore looks forward to continue working closely with France across the different domains on the basis of our common interests.

16. Let me end by thanking the French government, ministries, departments and agencies, businesses and start-ups for your unwavering support in strengthening Singapore-France partnership. I now invite you to join me in a toast to the enduring friendship between Singapore and France.

17. To the friendship of France and Singapore!

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