The Straits Times
Published on Feb 02, 2013

Tread carefully in population planning


THE Government should be commended for seeking long-term solutions to our population and economic problems ("Population could hit 6.9m by 2030"; Wednesday).

These are areas full of pitfalls and where hindsight often prevails. For instance, in the 1970s, the Government sought to limit births, but now we are encouraging them.

It is comforting to note that the Population White Paper strives for a judicious balance to achieve our goal of a sustainable population.

Nevertheless, one cannot help but have some misgivings.

The idea of taking in new immigrants to counter our ageing population may be flawed. Everyone eventually gets old. Would we be initiating a never-ending vicious circle?

China is an example of how difficult it is to reverse population growth, even with draconian measures for half a century.

There was a time when people retired at the age of 55. Thanks to medical progress, more and more people can now work well into their 70s and even beyond. Thus, the perception of an "ageing population" has to change.

I shudder to think what our "high-quality living environment" would be like when our population reaches seven million.

Our geographical resources are limited. Hong Kong has an almost unlimited hinterland, which we do not have.

In scientific experiments, when the rat population in a cage reaches a certain density, the animals start to attack one another. We are not rats, but we are not saints either.

A high gross domestic product has its cost, as seen in China, with its environmental pollution and generally low moral values resulting from intense competition.

By all means, we should take in quality immigrants and temporary low-end workers, but we should not go overboard.

There is a need to tread carefully, and constantly and objectively review our policies against the real-time situation.

Ong Siew Chey (Dr)