Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's remarks at the ground-breaking ceremony for the expansion of the International French School, 15 March 2023

15 March 2023

Your Excellency Minh-di Tang, Ambassador of France to Singapore


Mr Jean-Marc Deromedi, President of the International French School (IFS) Executive Committee


Mr David Binon, Principal of IFS




Ladies and Gentlemen



1 I am delighted to be back here at the IFS for the ground-breaking ceremony for the next phase of your expansion. I recall being here in February 2020. If you cast your mind back, February 2020 was just before the pandemic storm was to erupt across the world. Much has changed both in Singapore and the world since then.



2 Fortunately for all of us here, we have emerged stronger and more united than before. Just last month, the Government lowered our DORSCON level from Yellow to Green. This means that for the first time since January 2020, we have stepped down all the remaining Safe Management Measures. Prior to that, in August last year, we already made mask-wearing optional in schools.



3 Singapore’s exit from this acute phase of the pandemic and transition to a new norm has meant that all schools in Singapore – including the IFS – can fully resume activities at pre-pandemic levels. I want to make the point that we were actually very fortunate if you look at what happened to schools in many other parts of the world. In Singapore, our schools were only shut down nationwide for about six weeks – this is one of the shortest periods anywhere in the world. I want to say that this was only possible because of the trust, cooperation and effective leadership at the school-level – faculty staff, parents, students. We were able to keep everyone safe and continue the educational experience.



4 I am very glad that we are now expanding IFS. I want to congratulate everyone at IFS for this milestone. Since its establishment in 1957 – 56 years ago. IFS has grown from an initial enrolment of about15 students to almost 3,000 students. We look forward to the future of more than 4,000 students in this institution.



5 As we witness this continued progress and growth of IFS, it also reflects the strength of the educational cooperation between France and Singapore. During my last visit, I mentioned the deep and indelible impact that France has had on our education system in Singapore. In particular, I want to remind everyone again of the tireless work of Father Jean-Marie Beurel, who was responsible for the establishment of some of Singapore’s most famous, illustrious, and historic schools such as St Joseph’s Institution in 1852, and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in 1854.



6 Today, many Singaporean students participate in language and cultural immersion with French institutions in Singapore such as the IFS as well as in France itself. Such partnerships have benefited students from both our countries, as we expose each other to different perspectives and to be equipped with a more holistic appreciation of both regional and global issues. I am very pleased to note that there are 20 Secondary 3 students who are currently participating in the Local Immersion Programme right now. I think this is the first time we have been able to do this in the last three years. Thank you for making that possible.



7 Of course, the contributions and impact of the French community in Singapore are not limited to just education. I am not sure how many of us would be aware that the first dentist in Singapore, Dr Poiron, arrived in 1835 – he was from France. France was also one of the early supporters of Singapore’s economic development, and has been a major investor in Singapore since the 1970s, early in our nationhood journey.



8 I am glad that the size of the French community is also expanding, increasing from 818 in 1978. Today, I think there are more than 20,000 individuals – that should keep the Ambassador busy as well.



9 Our economic relationship is also deep and robust; there are over 2,500 French companies in Singapore including global names such as Airbus, Thales, and CMA-CGM, and Singaporeans obviously enjoy access to many French products and services.



10  I am also glad that our people-to-people interactions have continued to strengthen. Our tourism numbers have increased. France remains an important cultural partner. The annual France-Singapore Festival vOilah! remains a highlight on the calendar each year and serves as a platform to promote cultural exchange and understanding between our people. I am also glad that the school has committed to open up these new facilities to the local community in Serangoon, and that is why the Advisor to grassroots organisations, Chan Hui Yuh, is here with us this morning.



11 On the political and diplomatic front, I would need to draw your attention to the fact that France and Singapore share a very strong and firm commitment to multilateralism, free trade, and a rules-based world order. Concepts which we cannot take for granted in today’s world. France and Singapore are Strategic Partners, in a full sense of the word, and we enjoy a high level of mutual trust. The evidence for that can be seen in the fact that Singapore is the only foreign country with an air force squadron based in Cazaux, France. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the RSAF 150 Squadron in Cazaux.



12 We also appreciate France’s support for the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA), which entered into force in November 2019, and we look forward to France’s ratification of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA). These agreements will boost our bilateral trade and investments, making it ever easier to access goods and services on both sides. This, I believe, will also stimulate greater two-way interaction and exchanges, and will also fuel the expansion of IFS.



13 To conclude, the expansion of IFS is a testament to the longstanding presence, contributions, and importance of the French community in Singapore. I am confident that you will continue to play this role, and there will be more old boys like Mr Deromedi who will contribute to this. I know you mentioned that the lease will expire in 2043. What I hope in 2043 is that you would need even more space because the French community and the services that IFS will offer in 2043 would be even greater. On that note, congratulations, and I wish you all the very best. Thank you very much.



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Photo caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan delivering remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the International French School, 15 March 2023 

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

Photo caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the International French School, 15 March 2023 

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

Photo caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the International French School, 15 March 2023 

Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore


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