World Economy

French President Hollande touts 'regulated globalization' during Singapore visit

In a wide-ranging lecture on Monday, French President Francois Hollande defended multilateralism as he warned against a global tendency toward inward-looking policies.

"I want to deliver a message of lucidity, because the world is threatened, but also a message of truth and will," the 62-year-old leader said in Singapore — in the first state visit to the Southeast Asian nation by a sitting French president.

French President Francois Hollande (C) with Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugam (L) and Wang Gungwu (R), chairman of the ISEAS Board of Trustees in Singapore on March 27, 2017
ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP / Getty Images

Speaking at an event organised by local research center ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Hollande stressed that compliance with international order was the best solution to protectionism.

"Instead of closing down borders or building walls, we need a regulated globalization based on the sovereignty of nations and the strength of international organizations, especially the United Nations," he said. "This temptation to look inwards is not only dangerous, but it leads to a dead end."

While he was careful not to name names, politicians such as President Donald Trump and French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen likely came to mind for audience members. Trump has laid out plans for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, while Le Pen has predicted the European Union's demise as she calls for France to exit the regional bloc.

Hollande did not discuss his country's presidential election at the Monday event.

Economics aside, prioritizing the international order is important for the global fight on terrorism, he said.

"Terrorists can use people's fears to impose solutions that are contrary to our interests. This is the temptation of looking inward and it can have heavy consequences for big democracies."

Over the past two years, more than 230 people have died in France due to attacks linked to the militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and the country has been in a state of emergency since November.

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France is "fully committed to fighting the scourge (of terrorism), which can strike anywhere," Hollande said, using the group's alternative name, Daesh.

He called for more cooperation between governments, police, judiciaries, and intelligence services in the global crackdown on radicalization and terror financing. "We must use technology against those who look to use technology to destroy our society."

He also urged for a rejection of hate speech. "When France was struck, I made sure that national cohesion was preserved because that's what terrorists want to attack, they want a division of society."

Elected to the nation's top job in 2012 and now due to give up his seat within the next few months, Hollande's administration has been marked by high unemployment, slow economic growth, contentious labor laws that triggered large street protests, and public relations mishaps, including his 2014 break-up with Valerie Trierweiler.

When asked about life after public office, the president said he wasn't planning on any private sector business activities and insisted that he would continue fighting for global cohesion.

Hollande also praised Singapore's openness to the world, innovation, ability to leverage its strategic geographic location and smart city solutions. France is Singapore's second-largest trading partner in the E.U., while the Southeast Asian nation is home to more than 1,800 French businesses.