SINGAPORE – President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to France’s leaders on Saturday (Sept 28) to convey their condolences on the passing of former French president Jacques Chirac.

PM Lee and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong have also written to Mr Chirac’s widow, Mrs Bernadette Chirac, to convey their condolences.

Expressing her heartfelt sympathies and sadness over Mr Chirac’s passing on Thursday, President Halimah, in her condolence letter to her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the veteran politician’s long and distinguished political career spanning 42 years.

“During Mr Chirac’s tenure as President from 1995 to 2007, he took a special interest in building ties between France and the Asia-Pacific,” she said.

“He was a regular visitor to the region, and an early supporter of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) dialogue process that continues to bring Europe and Asia closer together. During his presidency, Singapore-France bilateral relations also grew and deepened.”

Madam Halimah added that after Mr Chriac left office, he remained active in helping the less privileged through programmes undertaken by Fondation Chirac, pointing out that the beautiful Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, which houses an extensive collection of indigenous art and cultural artefacts from around the world, now stands as a fitting monument to his legacy.

In his letter to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, PM Lee said Mr Chirac was a valued partner of Singapore and that he would be remembered as a statesman and a patriot.

“I had the honour of meeting Mr Chirac several times, including when he visited Singapore in July 2005 to attend the 117th International Olympic Committee Session, when Paris was bidding to host the 2012 Summer Games,” he said.

“I remember him as someone warm, charismatic and passionate about French food, culture and history.”

PM Lee also noted that Mr Chirac presided over the strengthening of France-Singapore bilateral ties, including through the establishment of the Republic of Singapore Air Force 150 Squadron training base in Cazaux in 1998, which “today epitomises our close defence relationship”.

In his condolence letter to Mrs Bernadette Chirac, PM Lee shared that his late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and Mr Chirac became close friends after they first met in 1974.

He said the late Mr Lee described Mr Chirac as a world leader, with whom he was able to talk freely and frankly, without giving or taking offence.

“Their discussions were often passionate and robust, but there was always mutual respect and admiration,” he said.

“I too had the pleasure of meeting Mr Chirac when he visited Singapore in October 2004 and July 2005, and also during my visits to France in 2003 and 2005. He was always very warm to me, and I benefited from his insights into international issues,” he added.

Singapore, and, more broadly Asia, had a friend in Mr Chirac, said PM Lee.

Mr Chirac was not only a keen observer of developments in the region, added PM Lee, but also appreciated the region’s importance to France and Europe, and sought to strengthen France’s and Europe’s engagement with Asia.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh recounted his encounters with Mr Chirac in his condolence letter to Mrs Chirac, saying that he first met the distinguished leader when he was the mayor of Paris, and later when he became President.

“Mr Chirac knew and loved Asia. He was knowledgeable in its arts and pottery. During his visit in 1994, I showed him a small display of Asian pottery pieces after our dinner. I was astounded that he could identify their country of origin and the periods they were made,” he added.