At a public lecture organized by the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) yesterday (3 Oct), PM Lee said to make Singapore valuable to the world requires an approach that’s both good-hearted and hard-headed.
And an important example of where both heart and head is needed is in the nation’s population policy. It requires both heart and head to be balanced, he said.
Mr Lee assured Singaporeans that the Government is paying attention to both the emotional and practical aspects of this, giving weight to how comfortable people are with the pace of immigration and and encouraging those newly-arrived to adapt to Singapore society.
“Last year, when we debated the population White Paper in Parliament, the Government proposed moderating the foreign worker inflows. The opposition rejected this. They argued for zero foreign worker growth. They said no inflows – shut it off. It was an populist and irresponsible pose. It was not a serious policy, because such a freeze would have harmed our economy, and in particular would have hurt many of the SMEs which desperately need workers, and would have caused Singaporeans to suffer and lose jobs,” he said.
“So we didn’t do that, and instead we decided to moderate the foreign worker inflow, not to stop it. Even this is painful, we know that. The policies are biting – many SMEs are finding it tough, despite all our schemes to help them. So nowadays, you don’t hear any more demands from the opposition for zero foreign worker growth. But what we are doing, what we said we would do, is necessary and is working. The latest manpower numbers do show that foreign worker growth has slowed to a more sustainable level, and is about where we want it to be.”
The foreign worker growth may have slowed but the foreign population is growing twice as fast as Singaporean population from Jun 2013 to Jun 2014 (‘SG population hits 5.5M with 40% foreigners in 2014‘).
Singapore’s total population hit 5.47 million as at June 2014 this year with foreign population (PRs and FTs) hitting 2.13 million or 38.9% of the total population, according to the latest figures from the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) under the Prime Minister’s Office.
The total population grew 1.3% but the foreign population continues to increase. It increased by 41,400 (2.0%) to hit 2,126,700.
NPTD said that the government plans to continue taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year to keep the citizen population from shrinking. To keep the PR population stable, it will grant about 30,000 PRs each year, it said.
No more measures to tighten foreign worker numbers further
Mr Lee continued, “I do not expect any further measures to tighten foreign worker numbers further. Meanwhile our economic restructuring is progressing, productivity is improving, at least in some sectors. We are steadily catching up in terms of our infrastructure – our housing, public transport and so on. So you must put together your heart and your head, and think carefully, feel how people feel, and choose a solution which addresses to the extent possible, both heart and head, and to convince people to accept it, and support it.”
Indeed, it’s going to be difficult to convince, say, a person with a full stomach after a “big hearty” buffet meal, to continue to eat again.
Mr Lee said that the issue of population is also a sensitive topic in other countries, with many nations seeing anti-immigrant backlash, which must be avoided in Singapore.
“We have to manage our numbers, we have to stay open and welcome those who are ready to contribute to Singapore, and ready to make their home here. We must maintain our reputation for being a good place to live and work, because we lose that at our peril. If people think that we are not interested in attracting investments, that talent is not welcome, that we’ve turned inwards, I think that’s the end of us,” he said.
He did not mention talents like PRC tour guide Yang Yin who has been dominating the news in Singapore the whole of last month.
Danger to blame foreigners especially on the Internet
He also mentioned the danger to blame foreigners if anything bad happens in Singapore.
He said, “Because we see a tendencies, especially on the Internet, to blame everything bad that happens in Singapore on foreigners, and blame all foreigners for anything bad that any one non-Singaporean does. All bad things are done by foreigners, and all foreigners do bad things. And they even get blamed for some things which have nothing to do with them.”
Perhaps Mr Lee thinks that foreigners like Yang have done good things in Singapore and for Singapore?
In any case, he cited swimmer Joseph Schooling as an example instead. The Eurasian athlete “is born here, his father is born here, he happens to be Eurasian, he won a gold medal, in fact he won three medals, and he was called an Ang Moh foreign talent”, said Mr Lee. ” I think it’s a compliment to the ang moh foreign talent. So I am ashamed and dismayed when I read such virulent and nasty attitudes, and I am sure so are many other Singaporeans. And we have to stand up and have the courage to say so, and not be cowed into being silent. There are problems of integration, or numbers congestion, we deal with them. But bad behaviour, rude behaviour, behaviour that is really a disgrace to a Singaporean, a human being, we should have the courage to call it such.”
He did not mention about Li Jiawei, our PRC table tennis foreign talent who had won medals for Singapore and said bye-bye to Singapore after her retirement.
Mr Lee also reassured youth concerned about their future, given that it is a time of rapid change and intense competition. While their anxiety is warranted, he said, if they understand the opportunities that are opening up, they should be eager and ready to go. He said Singapore also has the resources and talent to make it truly exceptional.
“Anxiety is understandable, anxiety is even constructive, up to a point. Even some paranoia is helpful because, as Andy Grove says, only the paranoid survive. And it can keep you on your toes. It’s like the anxiety you feel before you go on stage to perform,” he said. “But it should not lead to paralysis, or despondency. We need to be both paranoid but at the same time paradoxically confident. Then we can make this a special nation for Singaporeans.”
It’s going to be hard for Mr Lee to convince Singapore’s youth about their future when they are actually seeing people in their parents’ generation being retrenched and replaced by foreigners.
What do you think?