Singapore GE2020: I did not say Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million, says Heng Swee Keat

DPM Heng Swee Keat with Tampines GRC members during a walkabout at Tampines Central Park on July 1, 2020.
DPM Heng Swee Keat with Tampines GRC members during a walkabout at Tampines Central Park on July 1, 2020.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - He did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did he mention the figure. In fact, the Singapore population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In a Facebook post on Thursday (July 2), Mr Heng clarified that he was asked at a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student union ministerial forum in 2019 about Singapore's Population White Paper.

"In my response, I mentioned that former chief planner Liu Thai Ker had publicly said that we should go for an even higher number," he said.

He added that far from endorsing this, he had explained that "our population size was not just about physical space, but also about social space and how we can preserve a sense of togetherness".

He wrote:"Let me be clear: the Government has never proposed or targeted for Singapore to increase the population to 10 million. And if we look at today's situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030."

Mr Heng's comments come after a live debate on Wednesday night in which Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan took aim at him for "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million people in Singapore. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who took part in the debate, rebutted Dr Chee and said the 10 million figure was a "strawman" and a "falsehood".

Dr Chee cited the NTU dialogue held in March 2019, during which Mr Heng had said that Singapore's population density is not excessive.

Mr Heng had noted that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of living space, and cited Mr Liu, a former chief executive of the Housing Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, where he was also chief planner. Mr Liu had raised the notion that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.

But Mr Heng did not say Singapore should plan for 10 million people - nor did he mention the figure.

Mr Liu, who is in his 80s, had raised the figure in 2013. In response to a controversial Population White Paper released that year, which projected that Singapore's population would reach 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030, Mr Liu had said Singapore would do well to look beyond 2030.

He estimated that the population could reach 10 million by 2100 and said infrastructure had to be planned with this in mind as population growth cannot simply be curbed after 2030.

Singapore's current population is 5.7 million.

 
 

The SDP has made the 10 million figure a key part of its election campaign message.

Dr Balakrishnan said on Wednesday: "Dr Chee, just today, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) issued a statement advising people like you not to indulge in falsehoods."

The minister added: "Let me state for the record: We will never have 10 million. We won't even have 6.9 million. The Government doesn't have a target for the population.

"What we want is a Singapore core that is demographically stable, able to reproduce ourselves, able to create opportunities and jobs for ourselves and able to stay as a cohesive whole. It is not a target, and it's certainly not 10 million."

The PMO, in a statement issued on Wednesday evening, noted that in March 2018, the Government, in an update to Parliament, had said that given recent trends, Singapore's total population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030.

"This outlook remains valid today," it added.


What was actually said

MARCH 29, 2019

A Straits Times report, headlined "Heng Swee Keat on keeping Singapore open: We don't want a world where people build walls", on a dialogue that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had with Nanyang Technological University students, reads: "On the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030, set out in the Government's 2013 Population White Paper, Mr Heng said the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be. The social space is as important. Singapore's population density is not excessive, he said, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space.

"He cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term."

Mr Heng neither said Singapore should plan for 10 million people - nor mentioned the figure.

JULY 1, 2020

The National Population and Talent Division, under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), issues a clarification saying recent statements on various online platforms that the Government proposes or plans to increase the population in Singapore to 10 million are untrue.

It adds that an update on the population outlook, provided in Parliament in March 2018, said given recent trends, the total population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030, and this outlook remains valid today.

In a televised general election debate, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan says Mr Heng "toys with the idea of bringing our population up to 10 million", and asks Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan if he would categorically tell Singaporeans that his party has no intention of raising the population to 10 million by continuing to bring in foreigners.

Dr Balakrishnan replies that the PMO has just issued a statement advising people like Dr Chee not to indulge in falsehoods, saying: "The Government doesn't have a target for the population." Shortly after the debate ends, Dr Chee puts up a Facebook post with a link to the March 29, 2019, ST article. He writes: "Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said at the debate that my claim that Mr Heng Swee Keat was toying with the idea of a 10m population was a falsehood. Here's what ST reported on 29 Mar 2019..."

JULY 2 

Mr Heng makes a Facebook post noting that he did not say Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million, or mention the figure. "Let me be clear: The Government has never proposed or targeted for Singapore to increase its population to 10 million. And if we look at today's situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030," he writes.

Mr Heng also posts a video of his response on the subject at the forum, which shows him saying: "On the population issue, the 6.9 million number that was put out earlier on. In fact, I met Mr Liu Thai Ker, our former chief planner, he had publicly said - it has been reported in the papers - that we should go for an even higher number and this little red dot can accommodate many more people.

"Now whether this little red dot can accommodate many more people, actually, is not strictly just a physical constraint. We cannot be thinking of 50 million people on this little red dot because it will just be so dense and unpleasant.

"But if you look at our population density as a city, it is not excessive. There are many cities which, if you look at the liveable space, it is actually a lot, a lot more crowded. But the population number is not just about physical space, it is also about the social space, it is about the sense of togetherness."