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Thursday, May 26, 2022
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    Brunei hospitality warms outgoing French envoy

    James Kon

    Outgoing French Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Christian Ramage is set to leave the Sultanate today, taking home with him a suitcase of fond memories following a successful four-year tenure of promoting bilateral and diplomatic ties between both countries.

    Ramage said, “France and Brunei Darussalam have enjoyed good relations since the diplomatic ties started in 1984. We opened our embassy here at the end of 1984.”

    He pointed out 100 French citizens are living in the Sultanate.

    While here, Ramage become a tai chi practitioner and vivid hiker, falling in love with the country’s natural environment.

    “I would hike at least thrice weekly, while especially enjoying the Belambang trail. Not many countries have so many hiking areas. I congratulate Brunei for preserving its pristine forest. Flying over Borneo Island, I can see the difference between the Sultanate and Malaysia, in terms of green density… it is very different,” he said.

    Ramage’s fondest memories include meeting His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, Her Majesty Duli Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha binti Al-Marhum Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Haji Mohamed Alam and members of the royal family during ceremonies at the palace; and the month-long Hari Raya celebrations, highlighting the warmth and hospitality of the people.

    On promoting sports, Ramage said, “I was very happy to be able to organise Petanque tournaments before the pandemic this year. Petanque is a French sport invented at the beginning of the 20th Century. The sport is very popular in France and in Indo-China countries. I was pleased to note that it was featured in the SEA Games.”

    Outgoing French Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Christian Ramage leaves the Sultanate today after completing a four-year tenure. PHOTO: JAMES KON

    He also expressed gratitude to the French Bruneian Business Association for being active and organising business talks featuring prominent ministers and experts annually.

    “Brunei Darussalam is an important partner to France as we are the third diplomatic network in the world in terms of embassy and consulate, beside the United States (US) and China. We have embassies everywhere, and across all ASEAN member countries.

    “The Sultanate also belongs to the Indo-Pacific zone, which is a priority for us. France is part of this zone, with territories in New Caledonia, French Polynésie. We have around two million people living in the Indo-Pacific zone. We have the second largest maritime domain after the US, at 11 million square kilometres. To protect our sovereign, we have military assets such as naval ships, aircraft and soldiers. We are the only European Union (EU) member with a presence in the Indo-Pacific zone, so we have a special role in the region,” he said.

    “There is a strong French presence in the Indo-Pacific. Our government is committed to freedom of navigation in respect to the international laws of the sea, including the South China Sea,” Ramage said.

    “We have a TotalEnergies operation here. We also have strong relations with the defence sector, where missiles, armoured vehicles and airport radars are from France. The most recent Royal Brunei Air Force plane was built in France. Additionally, we have various French brands here. So we are committed to stay as Brunei is an important country to France, in ASEAN,” Ramage said.

    France will chair the EU for six months starting January 2022, with the Indo-Pacific zone being one of the priorities. A conference in Paris on February 27, will gather officials from EU countries and Asia. Brunei Darussalam will also be invited, he said.

    The outgoing ambassador is ending his diplomatic career with the posting in Brunei, describing it as a “real privilege” to have served in the Sultanate.

    “It was easy to meet His Majesty and His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah ibni His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, during official events,” Ramage said.

    Lauding the Brunei government’s tackling of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, he said, “Going 15 months without COVID-19 cases is an achievement.

    “Despite recording a high number of cases following the second wave, it is still not as bad as it is in other parts of the world, such as in Europe. In terms of death toll comparison, Brunei has done well. I am quite optimistic that the Sultanate will overcome the second wave with its high vaccination rate. I feel that more than 80 per cent of the populace will be fully vaccinated by the year end. In France, we have 88 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

    “Even with the high vaccination rate, it is important to maintain standard operating procedures (SOPs) including social distancing, wearing a face mask and making use of the BruHealth app,” he said.

    After Brunei Darussalam, Ramage will carry out his duties at the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, before moving on to become a lecturer at a university in France.

    Newly-appointed French Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Bernard Regnauld-Fabre will arrive on November 7.

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