In an interview with Time Magazine released on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave his views on a variety of topics, including the need to balance the population of more than 1.3 million foreign workers, which make up a quarter of Singapore’s population, while forging a national identity with a Singaporean “core”.
According to Lee: “If you don’t have that Singapore core, you can top up the numbers, but you are no longer Singapore. It doesn’t feel Singapore, it isn’t Singapore and we can issue everybody red passports, but where is the continuity?”
He says the Government has taken steps to slow the intake of foreigners in recent years, but faced with a rapidly ageing population, “the solution we have to be able to work, is to have enough of our own children for the next generation.”
He reiterated a point he made at a recent public lecture that demographics will continue to be a challenge for Singapore over the next 25 years.
Responding to Time’s observation that Singapore has been “quite successful” in forging a national identity, Mr Lee maintained the issue was “not that simple”. He highlighted various sub-divisions that could cause tensions such as race, language and religion, as well as personal positions on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues.
Making Singaporeans feel rooted is a challenge as well. Options for them to leave are “plentiful”, Mr Lee noted, more so for the talented.
“With Singaporeans, you speak English, you’re well-educated, the doors open everywhere. You can go to Silicon Valley, you can go to Sydney, you can go to Perth, you can go to London, Frankfurt, you’re welcomed and it’s not just talking about five, 10 per cent at the top who are like that but 30, 40, maybe even 50 per cent who are welcomed.
“If the successful ones mostly leave, we’re going to be depleted. And if it goes beyond the successful ones, we’ll be shrunken.”