PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday promised that the Government will not let Singaporeans be "overwhelmed by a sheer flood" of foreigners.
Speaking in Parliament today at the tail-end of the debate, he acknowledged the fear, expressed by many MPs, that Singaporeans will make up only 55 per cent of the 6.9 million population that the White Paper projects.
While he appreciates this, PM Lee pointed out that some segments of the foreign worker contingent will have no impact on the Singaporean core, such as construction workers here temporarily for a project.
He emphasised that the concept of a Singaporean core is not just about numbers, but about spirit.
In an emotional moment, Mr Lee's eyes reddened as he said that the Singapore core are those who share values, ideals, memories and experiences; those willing to defend the nation and our way of life "because we feel as one together."
When two young boys were recently killed in a Tampines road accident, "we all grieved together with Mr and Mrs Francis Yap," Mr Lee said, referring to their parents.
The Singapore spirit, he said, must also include the acceptance of newcomers as "one of our own" if they commit to the country. He acknowledged that it is harder to absorb new arrivals now than when the founding generation was brought together, as the country has developed a "distinctive Singaporean identity", but the need for immigrants remains, he said.
They help to strengthen the Singaporean core, reinforce the country's talent pool, and make lives better for all citizens, he said.
The Government, he said, will always treat Singaporeans better than non-Singaporeans. But they cannot afford to be "passengers" while non-citizens do the work, as is the model in places like Dubai, because Singapore does not have oil wealth.
"For Singapore to thrive, we must always stay lean and hungry. If we lose our drive, we will soon lose out," he said. "There will be privileges to be Singaporean, it is a special status, but we should not think of it as a perk because there are responsibilities."