Singapore GE2020: Vivian Balakrishnan refutes Chee Soon Juan on SDP's 10m population claim

Figure is a falsehood, says minister, who adds that Govt has no target for S'pore population

(Clockwise from left) Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan; the Progress Singapore Party's Francis Yuen; moderator Jaime Ho, chief editor at CNA Digital; Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, from the People's Action Party; and the Workers
(Clockwise from left) Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan; the Progress Singapore Party's Francis Yuen; moderator Jaime Ho, chief editor at CNA Digital; Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, from the People's Action Party; and the Workers' Party's Jamus Lim at the debate yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Singapore's population will not go up to 6.9 million, let alone 10 million, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

Responding to Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan during a live debate broadcast on TV and online, Dr Balakrishnan said the 10 million figure is a "strawman" and a "falsehood".

During the debate, Dr Chee had taken aim at Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat for "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million people in Singapore.

He cited a dialogue held at the Nanyang Technological University in March last year, 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 former Housing Board chief executive Liu Thai Ker.

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.

The "One No" in its Four Yes, One No (4Y1N) campaign slogan refers to saying "no" to what it says is the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) plan to increase Singapore's population to 10 million by bringing in foreign talent.

 
 
 
 
 

Yesterday, Dr Chee said Singaporeans are "deadly worried" about this proposal.

"Will you categorically tell Singaporeans right now that your party has no intention of raising our population to 10 million by continuing to bring in foreigners, especially foreign PMETs, into Singapore to compete with our PMETs for jobs?" he said, referring to professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

Dr Balakrishnan replied: "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 statement 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.

At the close of the debate, Dr Chee called on Singaporeans to vote for the SDP and again cited the 10 million figure, prompting Dr Balakrishnan to interject that it was "nonsense".

Dr Balakrishnan said in his closing statement: "I'm afraid I have to deal with Dr Chee's falsehood again. No 10 million. Fact."


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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2020, with the headline 'Vivian refutes Chee on SDP's 10m population claim'. Subscribe