by Li Yeming (Published on Zaobao)
On the last day of the debate on the Population White Paper, I received two text messages. One friend forwarded Mr Low Thia Khiang’s Parliament speech from the day before, and asked: “What is this Low Thia Khiang saying?” Another friend was more direct in expressing his displeasure: “I can’t believe that’s what Low Thia Khiang said! How can all of Singapore’s problems be attributed to immigration policy?”
Strong rhetoric but ridiculous logic
The Workers’ Party (WP) is saying that the Population White Paper will dilute the Singaporean core. But how so?
According to Mr Low, that is because the proportion of non-citizens would go up and allowing immigrants to become citizens is also a form of dilution. But I do not understand. Hiring a domestic helper will not change the core of a family, so how would hiring a few more domestic helpers and foreign workers dilute the Singaporean core?
So it seems the issue is not really about non-citizens, but rather, immigrants gaining citizenship. Clearly, Mr Low does not think that new citizens are real citizens.
He asked the question: What proportion of the so-called “Singaporean core” is made up of born-and-bred Singaporeans?
He may say he is not deliberately drawing a line between born-and-bred citizens and new citizens, but everything he said was aimed at the differences between the two. He cited many differences between them, stressed that integration is difficult and felt Singapore does not have the right conditions to integrate immigrants.
And why is that so? Because the pace of life here is fast, residents in the new HDB estates keep to themselves, so people may not even know their neighbours. Well, this got me curious. I wonder how many among the new citizens Mr Low knows actually do not work, have no social life and only keep to their own neighbourhoods. And one cannot integrate just because one does not know all of one’s neighbours? Does that make sense?
And when other MPs pointed out that Singapore was an immigrant society to begin with, Mr Low mocked their “amnesia”. He said while most of our forefathers were immigrants, after decades of nation-building, this generation of Singaporeans can be considered “true blue” Singaporeans.
So Mr Low does know that immigrants eventually became “true” Singaporeans. So why not new citizens? Must Singapore go through another round of nation-building before they can become true Singaporeans?
Turning anti-immigrant is a road of no return
I believe Singaporeans would agree that as a traditionally immigrant society, and as a cosmopolitan city-state, turning anti-immigrant would be a road of no return for Singapore.
The WP has always projected itself as not being anti-immigrant, even putting forward Mr Chen Show Mao, who was not born here. I wonder how Mr Chen felt on hearing what Mr Low said. Would dividing citizens into “born and bred” and “otherwise” not also divide Singaporeans? Does Mr Low want to engage in disruptive group-based politics like some politicians in Taiwan?
WP supporters previously believed the WP was not xenophobic or anti-immigrant. They defended it by saying it was only against radical immigration policies, not immigrants. Yet in the latest debate, the WP continued to attack the already tightened foreign population policy and even proposed having zero foreign manpower growth. To achieve that “zero growth”, the WP advocates that economic growth be lowered. It seems that achieving zero foreign manpower growth is all that the WP cares about and they would rather do without economic growth and infrastructure in order to achieve that objective, otherwise, they would accuse their rival party of bringing in foreigners and growing the economy “at all costs”.
Who is the one with amnesia?
So the WP wants a freeze on foreign workers. How would the current manpower crunch be resolved then? The WP’s solution is to lower economic growth and curb demand for labour. At the same time, it proposes raising wages and getting economically-inactive Singaporeans to return to the workforce. They seem to be totally oblivious to the contradiction between lowering economic growth and raising wages.
The WP thinks as long as wages are increased, the local workforce will grow consistently, which shows that it is the WP that is suffering from amnesia! They have forgotten about the post-war baby boomers who are now in their old age. This demographic, numbering about a million, will be retiring over the next 10 years. That is an average of 66,000 people a year, or 2 per cent of the citizen population. If the WP realised this, would it still believe that the workforce will not shrink even with zero growth in the foreign population?
Obviously, the WP is not yet clued in. They are totally oblivious to the crisis that is looming in the face of a rapidly ageing population. And this crisis is not the fault of the immigration policy! On the contrary, a moderate immigration and foreign worker policy will get Singapore through the crisis and allow the baby boomers to enjoy their old age.
Stoking xenophobia is not patriotism. And drawing lines between citizens based on their place of birth will not strengthen Singaporeans’ sense of identity and cohesion. I hope Mr Low and the WP will not take the road of no return. At the same time, I also hope the PAP is not already contented with just the quick passing of the White Paper. An issue as major as this should continue to be discussed, and perhaps parliamentary debate on the White Paper should be re-opened after the WP is given more time to study it.
(The writer works in the education and technology sector.)
image : Fabrications About The PAP