The Singapore government's new population strategy has triggered a debate on whether it should welcome more foreigners to solve its ageing demographics. Discussion also ensued about what constitutes a ‘Singaporean core'.
The government expects a slowing of migrant growth but continued augmentation of the local-born citizen pool to a possible high-end population figure of 6.9 million by 2030. The strategy, unveiled after a year of intensive study and consultation, was cast as an unavoidable solution to the economic slowdown brought about by falling fertility rates of native-born Singaporeans.
The government's unenviable choice, as highlighted by the Minister of the Environment Vivian Balakrishnan, was one of ‘Political Suicide vs Demographic Extinction’ in his blog:
I would prefer to have a smaller population of foreigners in our Singapore but ……We are facing the crisis of our lifetime. Our citizen population will halve every two generations. But that… is a ‘long’ term problem. The real emergency is not babies, but ageing. That is why the population will increase in the short term before the inevitable decrease in the long term.
Opposition politician Yee Jenn Jong from the Worker's Party however argued that it was not population growth that would create a dynamic Singapore but that one needed 'A dynamic population for a sustainable Singapore':
Madam Speaker, I am not against foreigners who wish to become Singaporean. Truly integrating them to become Singaporeans as we know Singaporeans to be, will be take time. To integrate, the foreigner has to spend substantial time here and should make genuine effort to understand our way of life and speak our language. How fast can we make that happen with adult immigrants?
Blogger Oddznns wrote that the real issue is about what Singaporeans want and the trade-offs they're prepared to make.
How do we create national identity, roots and a feeling of belonging even as we try to create a city that provide jobs, opportunity and a tax base to pay for a gentler, kinder country?
A plausible answer can only be arrived at if we go beyond the box of competitiveness and simple economic sustainability. Our best Singapore home is not just one that is economically vibrant. It has to be competitive enough for our hearts to espouse, sustainable in terms of loyalty.
The ultimate nationhood question is – What are we prepared to die for?
But who are the Singaporeans who will be allowed to decide? This is the question asked by another blogger, Singapore Armchair Critic, who states that ‘Holding the Singapore passport makes one an “instant citizen” but does not make one “Singaporean”:
To cite a cliché “home is where the heart is,” time has to elapse before a new migrant develops profound emotional ties – through imbibing local cultures and building a social network of family and friends – that outweigh cold, rational calculations to leave or stay in Singapore should circumstances here take a turn for the worse.
Who indeed is a Singaporean and what constitutes a Singapore Core? The question continues to be discussed around the blogosphere. Perhaps, only time will tell.