Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat asserted that Singaporeans need to be open to foreigners, at a ministerial dialogue at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) this week. Heng’s reason for needing Singaporeans to be open to foreigners is curious.
ST reports that Heng – who is widely expected to become Singapore’s next Prime Minister after his recent appointment as first assistant secretary-general of the ruling party – said that we need to remain open to foreigners “so that we can have the confidence to interact with people of all races, languages and cultures from around the world.”
The Minister also cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker’s views that Singapore should plan for a 10 million population, as he asserted that the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030 that the Government announced to widespread backlash in 2013 is not excessive.
Heng told the 400 students attending the dialogue: “We don’t want a world where people build walls around themselves. Our pledge – regardless of race, language or religion – is not to be taken lightly…but really as a way of life for Singapore.
“Beyond that, we ought to deepen our understanding of other people… whether they are new immigrants, our immediate neighbours, students from NTU, National University of Singapore or other universities.”
Asserting that Singapore will have no place in the world if its people draw an exclusive circle for themselves, Heng shared the story of one constituent who approached him and told him that he is uncomfortable with foreigners working in his company.
Calling this situation a “difficult trade-off,” Heng said: “On the one level, many Singaporeans understand, rationally, we should have more people join us because our workforce is declining.
“But at the same time, emotionally, we don’t feel comfortable that there are people who appear a little different from us and I would like to keep this to my circle. This almost tribal feeling is a very deep one.”
He concluded that Singapore must be wary of propagating the notion that only people exactly like us are our people, even as it seeks to retain its own identity and culture.
Heng’s latest comments at the NTU dialogue echo his earlier remarks at a book launch on Saturday (23 Mar), where he said that Singapore must remain open to the world and stay open to talent and ideas.
He said: “No one group or country has all the ideas or expertise to tackle the many challenges that the world is facing. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, we need to remain open and collaborate to achieve better outcomes together.”
Noting that people in Singapore and other countries are questioning the value of globalisation even though they benefited from it, Heng added:
“People feel that they are left behind. They are frustrated that wages are stagnating and lives are not improving. They lost faith in their political systems and governments. These have led to a weakening of social cohesion.
“These winds of change remind us about the importance of remaining open to the world and being resourceful.”
Heng urged Singapore to brave these “winds of change” by ensuring that it remains multiracial and multicultural despite tensions and fault lines like religious polarisation, xenophobia and social stratification.
Hundreds of Singaporeans responding to Heng’s views, however, agreed that he shouldn’t blame Singaporeans for not being open to foreigners when many locals are being pushed out of jobs they are qualified for by cheaper foreign labour:
Interestingly, Heng Swee Keat is the same PAP politician who said that foreign manpower growth could be on “an unsustainable path” if current trends persists as he delivered his Budget 2019 speech, last month.
Asserting that the Government wants to invest in Singaporeans then, Heng had said: “Relying on more and more foreign workers is not the long-term solution.”