Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat has asserted that Singaporeans “must remain open to immigration,” in a Facebook post published on Thursday. (13 June).
Revealing that he welcomed new citizens to his Bishan-Toa Payoh ward and welcomed them to “join the Singapore family,” the People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian cited the oft-repeated reasons of a low birth rate and an ageing population as to why Singaporeans “must remain open to immigration.”
He wrote: “We welcome our new citizens to join the Singapore family and be part of our Bishan-Toa Payoh community. With our low birth rates and ageing population, we must remain open to immigration to supplement our local talent pool and secure our future.”
Mr Chee also cited pioneer leader S Rajaratnam’s call that “being Singaporean is not about ancestry, but conviction and choice.”
Mr Chee’s use of the ageing population argument to support open immigration could be contradicted by recent remarks made by his own colleague.
Earlier this week, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo shared the results of a recent report that found the healthy life expectancy of Singaporeans to have risen by 7.2 years to 74.2 years, and that life expectancy has risen by 8.7 years to 84.8 years, in the last 27 years.
Asserting that this means that “most of the increase in life expectancy for Singaporeans is years of good health,” Ms Teo said that she is “encouraged” by the report.
The PAP politician added: “People living longer and generally healthier lives is a key reason that they work longer – this is a trend that we observed across many developed countries.”
Meanwhile, Mr Chee is not the only ruling party parliamentarian to urge Singaporeans to be open to immigration in recent months. In March this year, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat also asserted that Singaporeans need to be open to foreigners.
Citing former chief planner Liu Thai Ker’s views that Singapore should plan for a 10 million population, Mr Heng asserted that the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030 that the Government announced to widespread backlash in 2013 is not excessive.
Mr Heng, who is widely expected to become Singapore’s next Prime Minister after his recent appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and first assistant secretary-general of the PAP, said: “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, Mr 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.
Days before he made these remarks, Mr Heng said that Singapore must remain open to the world and stay open to talent and ideas at another event.
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, the heavyweight politician 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.”
Mr 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.
His views have received widespread backlash from Singaporeans who 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.