Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Singapore and France: Building ties to tackle common challenges

By Jean-Pierre Bel, Published TODAY, 28 Apr 2014

In October 2012, my Prime Minister, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited Singapore and signed a strategic partnership between the Republic and France. This was Singapore’s second such partnership, following one with the United States.

I met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong exactly a year later and took up his invitation to visit Singapore from April 20 to 22. Besides meeting PM Lee again, I called on President Tony Tan and had useful meetings with Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ms Grace Fu.


One of the main reasons for my visit was to strengthen people-to-people exchanges between France and Singapore on areas of common concern.

Lying more than 10,000km apart, our countries appear to be very different. France has a much longer history and her population is more than 10 times that of Singapore.

However, we are facing some similar challenges. These include integration of foreigners in our societies, an ageing population and inter-generational bonding, and climate change.

On immigration and the integration of foreigners, at a time when the far-right discourse is gaining ground in Europe, we have a duty to demonstrate that an open and fair society is beneficial to all.

France has adopted measures to facilitate the integration of foreigners and fresh immigrants into French society. These include offering classes on French language and culture, helping them in their job search and holding workshops with school representatives to ensure their children adjust well in our school system.

I believe both France and Singapore are well placed to reconcile our respective national identities with globalisation and the challenges it poses to our societies.

The population in both countries is ageing and this has heightened healthcare concerns among the people. Faced with this common challenge, we both have to find ways to optimise our healthcare systems and work towards greater efficiency, even though our starting points are very different.

There is also a key difference in the way our social safety nets operate. One area we can work together is to study how best to utilise manpower and technology to provide the best care for the elderly.

In an ageing society, it is critical that the healthcare system provides for the needs of the most vulnerable citizens, including the poor and lonely. France introduced universal medical coverage in 2000, much like the MediShield Life scheme being introduced here, which is especially aimed at ensuring that low-income earners are also able to afford healthcare. This universal coverage is available not only to French citizens, but also to foreigners residing in France.

Singapore and France also face similar challenges caused by global warming: Rising water levels, air pollution and climate-induced migration, for instance. France will be hosting the Paris 2015 United Nations conference on climate change, where we aim to adopt a new and ambitious international framework until 2030 for the reduction of emissions.

Singapore is a regional leader in these issues and one of the few Asian countries that has put forward an emission cut commitment. We will work closely with our Singaporean partners to make the Paris 2015 conference a success. On all these common challenges, I would like to encourage further dialogue between not only officials and Members of Parliament, but also students, researchers and representatives from the civil society.


During my visit, I also saw first-hand that Singapore has truly become a global city with talents from all over the world. The fact that more than 600 French companies are now based in Singapore (where they employ about 40,000 people), and that more than 12,000 of my countrymen have settled here, bears mentioning.

The French community here is a young and dynamic group with more than 300 entrepreneurs and more than a hundred scientists working in Singapore’s world-class laboratories in areas such as biotechnology.

Lastly, I also told our distinguished Singaporean hosts that France looks forward to the 2015 Singapore jubilee as it will not only mark the Republic’s 50th year of independence, but also the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

I personally look forward to attending all the events and exhibits of the Singapore ‘Festivarts’ cultural festival that will be held all over France in spring next year to celebrate this anniversary.

This landmark event is the culmination of a decade-long partnership between France and Singapore on cultural policy and I am sure it will help our two people to develop closer ties and better understanding.

Jean-Pierre Bel is President of the French Senate.

No comments:

Post a Comment