GE2020: Vivian Balakrishnan slams Chee Soon Juan over ‘false statement’ of 10m population plan

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan debated against Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a televised broadcast featuring representatives from four political parties on 1 July 2020. (SCREENSHOTS: CNA)
Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan debated against Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a televised broadcast featuring representatives from four political parties on 1 July 2020. (SCREENSHOTS: CNA)

SINGAPORE — Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (1 July) rebuked Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan for his “false statement” that the government plans to increase the country’s population to 10 million during a televised debate.

Speaking during the debate in English between representatives of four political parties ahead of General Election (GE) 2020, Dr Balakrishnan was responding to Dr Chee’s question on whether the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government has the intention to raise the population to such a level.

“Let me state for the record, we will never have 10 million (people). We won't even have 6.9 million. The government doesn't have a target for the population,” Dr Balakrishnan said during the debate broadcast live on TV and online.

Calling Dr Chee’s comments a “false strawman”, Dr Balakrishnan added, “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.”

The SDP has framed its opposition against the alleged population target in its “Four Yes, One No” GE campaign.

Dr Balakrishnan cited a media release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in response to statements circulating online about the population “target”.

In its media release earlier Wednesday, the PMO said, “The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office, would like to state categorically that these statements are untrue. The Government has not proposed, planned nor targeted for Singapore to increase its population to 10 million.”

The government has maintained that Singapore’s population size is affected by factors, including birth rates, life expectancy and global developments, and does not seek to achieve any particular population size, the PMO said.

The PMO cited a population outlook provided in Parliament in 2018 that forecast Singapore’s total population is likely to be “significantly below” 6.9 million by 2030 given recent trends. “This outlook remains valid today,” added the PMO, which warned that “appropriate action” may be taken against any such further publication of misleading statements.

During the debate, Dr Balakrishnan, Dr Chee, the Workers’ Party member Jamus Lim and the Progress Singapore Party member Francis Yuen outlined their respective party’s views on various issues.

Discussions about the job prospects of Singaporeans, the outlook for local companies and Singapore’s fiscal position dominated the proceedings.

Yuen called for changes to employment policies to favour Singaporean workers amid the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as forcing companies to “localise by quota”.

Dr Lim said wage growth in Singapore has lagged behind economic growth relative to other developed countries and questioned whether the PAP is able to measure the efficacy of its policies. He called on voters not to give the ruling party “a blank check”.

In response to the comments by the opposition GE candidates, Dr Balakrishnan said that the government is already implementing measures to create 100,000 job and skills upgrading opportunities in the short term to deal with the economic crisis.

The PAP candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC also mentioned that while 60,000 foreigners had lost their jobs in Singapore in the first five months of the year, the number of local PMETs (professional, manager, executive and technician) has been increasing by three per cent a year.

“We've had emergency infusions to save jobs. We have moved four budgets to keep our businesses afloat especially our SMEs (small and medium enterprises), in order to keep jobs for our own Singaporeans...We are continuing to accelerate this necessary transformation that our economy has to undergo because of the digital revolution,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

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