Monday, 16 July 2018

Singapore takes part for first time in France's Bastille Day Parade 2018 with PM Lee Hsien Loong as guest of honour

RSAF personnel involved in flypast and Flag Party
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Jul 2018

PARIS • The jaunty tunes by the French military band were unmistakably European, and the crowds standing at attention were French citizens.

But two of the flags being marched down the Champs-Elysees and past the grandstand were of Asian nations - Singapore and Japan.

For the first time, Singapore took part in France's National Day Parade this year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in attendance, invited by French President Emmanuel Macron as guest of honour - the first Singapore leader to be invited to the parade.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono was also there, in place of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who cancelled his trip to deal with floods in Japan.

The National Day Parade, also known as the Bastille Day parade, marks the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789.

The parade featured about 4,000 soldiers, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 aircraft and 30 helicopters. Among these were the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) 150 Squadron based in Cazaux Air Base, in south-western France.

Of the six RSAF personnel involved, two were in the combined flypast and four took part in the parade as Singapore's Flag Party.

The flypast began with nine jets zooming across the sky, leaving behind jet trails in the French national colours of red, white and blue. Later, a combined flypast involving one RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets flew across the sky as well.

The officers flying the trainer were Captain Yeap Wei Jiun and Captain Jerevin Chia Min Feng.

Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carried the Singapore flag at the parade. Other officers in the party were Captain Jerome Tan Shang-Yang, Lieutenant Tan Yi and Lieutenant Jacob Lee Yong Jin.

Major Tong told The Sunday Times that he was proud to be Commander of the Flag Party, especially as it was Singapore's first appearance at the parade.

Asked about challenges RSAF officers in France face, he said: "Due to the language barrier, simple tasks like setting up Internet access for your home or getting your car insured become much more difficult."

Singapore's participation in the parade comes as the RSAF celebrates the 150 Squadron's 20th anniversary this year. More than 180 RSAF fighter air crew trainees from the squadron have undergone training at Cazaux over the past two decades.

Helicopters began circling in the sky above the Champs-Elysees and Place de la Concorde around 8am, before the parade.

The parade began at around 9.30am with an inspection of the French troops by general officers commanding the foot and motorised troop columns.

Mr Macron arrived at 10am, making his way from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees in an armoured vehicle to the Place de la Concorde, where he inspected the troops. He then took his seat between his wife Brigitte and Mr Lee.

The French citizens watching the parade were a reserved crowd, applauding at key moments. They also clapped in encouragement when two motorcycles in the parade collided - nobody was injured - but they otherwise remained quiet and respectful.

After the flypast, special tribute troops started from the Arc de Triomphe and marched down the Champs-Elysees, ending at the Place de la Concorde.

There was then a march-past of foot soldiers, followed by a helicopter flypast, and a mobile column of armoured vehicles. There was also a display of a mounted column on horses.

The parade closed with a military choir singing traditional military songs and France's national anthem - the rousing La Marseillaise.

Singapore, France like-minded partners who agree on importance of multilateral system: PM Lee
Republic must work with those who agree on rules-based multilateral system, he says
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent In Paris, The Sunday Times, 15 Jul 2018

The growing wave of populism globally means that Singapore has to work with like-minded partners - including Europe, Japan, Asean and China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview with the Singapore media on Saturday (June 14), the final day of his visit to France.

These are partners who agree that a rules-based multilateral system is important, and France is among them, he added.

"It may be outdated but we cannot throw (the multilateral system) out and throw out the baby with the bathwater. I think Europe is like-minded, certainly France believes this passionately, so does Germany's Angela Merkel, and we hope that will provide us with the basis to work with Europe and also enable Europe to pursue this role on the world stage," he said.

He noted that Europe has its own tensions, as individual countries in the region have their own radical rightist and nativist movements.

"So one of the things we hope for is that the European countries are able to manage their social and political tensions, so they do not end up with radical governments.

"Otherwise, the governments may be like-minded with you but if they can't hold their own domestically, I think they will not be on a strong platform."

Mr Lee, who was in Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron to attend France's National Day Parade on Saturday as a guest of honour, said Singapore-France ties are very good.

Upon arriving in Paris on Friday, Mr Lee met French industry leaders and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. He then attended an official welcome ceremony at the Hotel National des Invalides, and at 9.30pm had dinner with Mr Macron. He was accompanied by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and other officials.

As the programme was behind time, a joint press briefing that the two leaders were scheduled to hold before the dinner was cancelled.

Mr Lee said he and Mr Macron talked about the two countries' security cooperation, particularly the Cazaux Air Base deployment.

"We've been there 20 years and we are very grateful for the generosity of our host and it has been a tremendous help to us, producing many pilots and a fair number of babies as well," he said with a smile. Some 190 Singapore pilots have trained at the base, and 191 babies have been born to the pilots there.

Mr Lee added that he and Mr Macron also talked about economic cooperation, and how Singapore and France are pursuing new avenues of collaboration in areas such as innovation and the environment.

Taking a broader view, he said France has always seen itself as having a role beyond Europe and beyond its own national concerns.

"(Former French President Charles) de Gaulle certainly had that view and the French certainly have always maintained this self-image and this perception of where they ought to be in the world. They want to participate in East Asia, they want to have an influence. Even in security matters, they think they should contribute something and they do have forces, they have resources," he said.

"The more we care about one another's parts of the world, the more stable, secure and connected the world will be."

As the coordinator for European Union-Asean relations this year, Singapore will also look at how it can help establish a framework to restart talks for an EU-Asean free trade agreement, said Mr Lee. While the idea has been mooted, a deal has remained elusive thus far.

"If we can identify what the shape of the deal can be like, where the major opportunities are, (where) our trade-offs are, then I hope we will have better successes there."

During the visit, the two leaders also issued a roadmap for cooperation on digital innovation, Internet governance and cyber security. The roadmap reaffirms commitment to an open and secure cyberspace.

PM Lee Hsien Loong in France for official visit, Bastille Day parade
He meets French Prime Minister and industry leaders, and is hosted to dinner by President Emmanuel Macron
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent In Paris, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2018

The resounding sound of Majulah Singapura filled the courtyard of the Hotel national des Invalides yesterday as France welcomed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Paris.

The official welcome ceremony marked the start of PM Lee's three-day official visit to France, during which he will be a guest of honour at the country's National Day celebrations, also known as the Bastille Day parade.

Mr Lee was greeted by France's Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi at the Hotel national des Invalides, a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France.

The buildings include the military museum and a large church with the tombs of some of France's war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

Mr Lee was later stopped by a group of Singaporeans who asked for a selfie with him.

The Prime Minister, who arrived in Paris at 7.40am yesterday, had lunch with French industry leaders and exchanged views with them on bilateral economic cooperation and business opportunities in Singapore and France.

PM Lee later met French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, and the leaders took stock of the robust and multi-faceted partnership between both countries in security, trade, culture, research and education.

They also discussed regional and international issues of common concern, and reaffirmed Singapore and France's commitment to the open trading system, rule of law and multilateralism.

In the evening, PM Lee called on French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace. Mr Macron and his wife then hosted PM Lee to dinner.

PM Lee, who is in Paris at the invitation of Mr Macron, will attend the Bastille Day celebration today.

It marks the fall of Bastille in 1789, a turning point in the French Revolution. And the top highlight is a military parade down the Champs-Elysees. This year, it will feature a France-Singapore combined fly-past.

The visit comes as France and Singapore commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)'s advanced jet training in Cazaux Air Base, and as they expand innovation partnerships during the 2018 France-Singapore Year of Innovation.

PM Lee and Mr Macron will issue a France-Singapore Road Map for deepening cooperation in digital innovation, Internet governance and cyber security. Several bilateral agreements in the areas of innovation, artificial intelligence, research and development, student exchanges and energy will also be signed in conjunction with the visit.

PM Lee will also attend a reception with overseas Singaporeans.

In a Facebook post yesterday, PM Lee said France was one of the first countries to recognise Singapore's independence in 1965. "Since then, France has become one of our strategic partners. We have strong cooperation in many areas - economy, defence, education and people-to-people ties."

He said he is honoured to be attending the Bastille Day parade, and looks forward to seeing the RSAF M-346s and the Singapore flag flying during the parade.

Accompanying PM Lee on the visit are Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann and officials from the Prime Minister's Office and other ministries.

RSAF marks 20 years of training at Cazaux Air Base in France
190 pilots have trained in Cazaux since 1998, and 191 babies have been born to staff there
By Adrian Lim, In Cazaux (France), The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2018

Trainee fighter pilots from Singapore are not the only ones who have taken to the skies at Cazaux in the last two decades - the stork has also been soaring there.

Since the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) set up a training detachment in the south-western French town in 1998, more than 190 pilots have trained there. At the same time, 191 babies have also been born to staff and their families based in Cazaux.

"So for every one pilot, one baby. That's not a bad ratio," said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday at an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the RSAF's Cazaux detachment.

To mark the milestone, an RSAF M-346 aircraft and a pair of French Air Force (FAF) Alpha Jets performed a combined flypast in front of delegates from both countries.

Dr Ng is also in France for the French national day parade in Paris on Saturday, and will join Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who will attend as a guest of honour.

Expressing his gratitude to the French government, its armed forces and people for giving the RSAF the opportunity to train in Cazaux, Dr Ng said France has played a "crucial role in helping Singapore train pilots to defend Singapore and our airspace".

The large airspace in Cazaux - 32 times the size of Singapore - offers the RSAF pilots sprawling skies to hone their skills. And training alongside their French counterparts "allows the RSAF to learn from and peg itself against a world-class air force", Dr Ng added.

"The RSAF's presence in Cazaux is a physical testament to the strong and growing ties between our two countries. It is developed on a shared foundation of ideals and values for both our countries, built on liberty, equality and fraternity."

Cazaux Air Base, about 60km from the city of Bordeaux, is home to 150 Squadron and where fighter aircrew undergo the Advanced Jet training programme. Pilots fly the M-346, a stepping stone before they operate sophisticated warplanes like the F-15SG and the F-16.

Dr Ng was accompanied by Chief of Air Force Mervyn Tan on his visit. The French delegation included Secretary of State to the Minister for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq and FAF's General Officer Commanding the South West Defence and Security Zone and Air Forces Commander, Lieutenant-General Jean Rondel. In 2011, Singapore and France agreed to extend the Cazaux detachment to 2035.

Asked how both countries will further their military cooperation, Dr Ng said there is also collaboration in areas such as defence technology and cyber security.

Of the many babies born in Cazaux, Dr Ng quipped: "Somehow I think the air, the Arcachon oysters, the French wine make for very fertile ground for babies."

RSAF to join French jets in flypast on Bastille Day
By Adrian Lim, In Cazaux, France, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2018

In a symbolic gesture of strong bilateral ties, jets from the Singapore and French air forces will soar over Paris in a combined flypast on Saturday, Bastille Day.

It is the first time the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) - which has a training detachment in south-western France - will be taking part in the French national day parade.

An RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft will fly alongside five French Alpha Jets in close formation.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also be attending the parade as a guest of honour - the first such distinction granted to a Singapore leader.

The RSAF jet will be flown by the Officer Commanding of 150 Squadron, Captain Yeap Wei Jiun, 36, and Qualified Flying Instructor Jerevin Chia Min Feng, 32.

Both are from the Cazaux Air Base, which is over 60km from Bordeaux.

Capt Yeap told the Singapore media visiting the base yesterday that the invitation to participate in the flypast "means a huge deal for the squadron".

Capt Chia said the lead Alpha Jet will be flanked by a pair of wingmen on each side and the RSAF M-346 will be trailing behind the leader. This is called a "line astern" position.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of RSAF's detachment in France.

At a celebration today, a time capsule will be installed and a commemorative tail flash unveiled. A flypast by an M-346 and two Alpha Jets will also mark the occasion.

Over the past two decades, more than 180 RSAF fighter air crew have been trained at Cazaux Air Base.

Fighter aircrew spend about a year in Cazaux undergoing an advanced jet training programme and flying the M-346, before they operate more sophisticated warplanes such as the F-15SG and F-16.

The M-346 features modern avionics systems, aerodynamic performance and sophisticated simulations, allowing them to hone their capabilities on a wide range of operational missions.

The French base also offers the pilots the chance to train in an airspace 32 times the size of Singapore.

There are currently 277 personnel in the Cazaux detachment, comprising RSAF instructors, trainees, engineers, support staff and their families, along with Singapore Technologies Aerospace Engineering staff and their families.

Capt Yeap, who has been at Cazaux for 21/2 years with his family, said: "The Ministry of Education (MOE) has a good arrangement. We have an MOE-sponsored Mandarin teacher here... The local French school has English teachers.. who get syllabus updates from MOE."

"That puts my heart at ease while I work here," said the father of two boys, aged six and nine years.

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