We must make enough of our own babies to secure Singapore's future: Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Forbes editor-in-chief Steve Forbes at the Forbes Global CEO Conference on Wednesday, 16 October 2019. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Forbes editor-in-chief Steve Forbes at the Forbes Global CEO Conference on Wednesday, 16 October 2019. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the long-held goal of having a workforce with a two-thirds Singaporean core, as well as the importance of producing more Singaporean babies.

“To secure our future, we must make our own babies, enough of them. Because if all of the next generation are not our own, then where do they come from and what is the point of this?”

Lee made his remarks at the end of the two-day Forbes Global CEO Conference, whose theme this year was “Transcending the Turbulence”. The 67-year-old spoke during a dialogue with Steve Forbes, the editor-in-chief of business magazine Forbes. It was Lee’s first appearance at the annual event since 2014.

Asked by an audience member how the Republic is balancing economic growth against the need to manage immigration, Lee noted that it is an especially difficult challenge for Singapore, due to its small population. The primary focus is on increasing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which dropped to 1.14 in 2018. A TFR of 2.1 is needed for a population to replace itself.

“If we can push (up) the fertility rate, not to 2.1 which would be replacing ourselves, but maybe 1.3, 1.4, we produce two-thirds of what we need, then the balance one-third - well, I am prepared to top up from overseas, and the numbers are not too enormous and will not overwhelm us,” said Lee.

According to a Department of Statistics (DOS) report released last month, as of June 2019, the Republic’s total population was 5.7 million. 3.5 million of them were Singapore citizens, together with some 0.53 million permanent residents.

The number of citizen births rose slightly to 32,413 last year, from 32,356 in 2017.

The Prime Minister added that there was a need to manage the in-flow of people who become permanent residents, as well as PRs want to become citizens in Singapore. “And that we can manage, because there is no shortage of people who want to come, and we are able to choose those who are most able to fit in, and most able to make a contribution,” said Lee.

“We have now about 32-33,000 babies born in Singapore a year, citizens. We bring in about 30,000 permanent residents , so it’s almost one to one. But of those PRs, we have about 20,000 who become citizens a year. So we’re producing more of our kids than we are having immigrant new citizens. So I think that is not a bad balance.”

In terms of non-resident workers - from construction workers to managers and bankers and professionals - there is flexibility, depending on the needs of the economy and the business cycle, said Lee, adding that he hoped the immigrants are “a plus” to Singapore.

“Because it adds a vibrancy to the place that in Singapore, you have people from all over the world who are able to come here, who are comfortable living here, working here, have their kids here, and living peacefully, law-abiding, making a contribution, arts, culture as well as economy and business.

“If we can do that and keep the core Singaporean, and you come to Singapore and say ‘I know I’m in this place, there’s something special about it, beyond the food and the accent’, then I think we’ve got the balance right.”

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