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France's Hollande looks to strengthen ties with Singapore

ANNABELLE LIANG
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French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a state banquet hosted by Singapore President Tony Tan in the Istana or residential palace in Singapore, Sunday, March 26, 2017. Hollande is on a two-day state visit to Singapore. (Wallace Woon/Pool Photo via AP)

SINGAPORE (AP) — French President Francois Hollande, on an official visit to Singapore, expressed a desire Sunday to strengthen France's partnership with the Southeast Asian city-state.

"France considers Singapore not only for an economic partner, but also as a friendly country," Hollande said at a state banquet, where he gave a toast in French.

"In this geopolitical environment of isolation, nationalism and protectionism, we have to lead by example and make our bilateral partnership not only strong and dynamic, but to show the way for opening confidence in international trade," added Hollande, making the first official visit by a French president to Singapore.

The two countries signed a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership in 2012 to deepen cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, defense and space technology.

Singapore's president, Tony Tan, said that France was a "special friend," noting that it was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore after its independence in 1965.

"At a time when the global political and economic environment is uncertain, many governments are facing pressures to turn inwards," Tan said. "Against this backdrop, being able to work with reliable friends is more important than ever. France is such a friend of Singapore." Some 15,000 French nationals and 1,800 French enterprises are based in the city-state.

Trade between the two countries is strong as well. Last year, their bilateral trade was valued at 16 billion Singapore dollars ($11.4 billion). France was Singapore's second-biggest trading partner in the European Union.

In 2015, French foreign direct investment in Singapore was about 14.8 billion Singapore dollars ($10.6 billion).

Hollande is set to meet with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and deliver a lecture on Monday. He leaves for Malaysia on Tuesday.