SINGAPORE - He did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did he mention the figure. In fact, the Singapore population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
In a Facebook post on Thursday (July 2), Mr Heng clarified that he was asked at a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student union ministerial forum in 2019 about Singapore's Population White Paper.
"In my response, I mentioned that former chief planner Liu Thai Ker had publicly said that we should go for an even higher number," he said.
He added that far from endorsing this, he had explained that "our population size was not just about physical space, but also about social space and how we can preserve a sense of togetherness".
He wrote: "Let me be clear: The Government has never proposed or targeted for Singapore to increase the 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."
Mr Heng's comments come after a live debate on Wednesday night in which Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan took aim at him for "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million people in Singapore.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who took part in the debate, rebutted Dr Chee and said the 10 million figure was a "strawman" and a "falsehood".
Dr Chee cited the NTU dialogue held in March 2019, 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 Mr Liu, a former chief executive of the Housing Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, where he was also chief planner.
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.
Dr Balakrishnan said on Wednesday: "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, in a statement issued on Wednesday evening, 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.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.