In an interview with the Chinese media published last Friday (17 Jul), former Housing Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) CEO Liu Thai Ker said that the 10 million population number was always a planning parameter and not a target for Singapore (‘GE2020: 10 million population not a goal but a planning parameter, says Liu Thai Ker‘).
He said that the 10 million figure was not a goal but the worst-case scenario. “In case of reaching 10 million, we are prepared,” he said. “Otherwise, if it is discovered that 10 million is a real need, then it will be too late.”
He pointed out that when he led URA to develop the Concept Plan in 1991, he thought that the country’s population would hit 5.5 million in 100 years – an estimate that came true 70 years ahead of time. Singapore’s population is now already 5.7 million.
Still, he said that if Singapore is to accommodate 10 million, then the population density will have to increase by 30 per cent – something which will not impact people adversely if planning starts now. He urged Singaporeans to not just see the negatives but also the positive contributions by foreign immigrants.
Liu says Singapore population “obviously” going to grow beyond 6.9 million
The controversy over 10 million population was ignited back in 2014 when Liu openly said that Singapore should plan for a population of 10 million at a public seminar (‘Singapore should plan for population of 10m‘, 1 Aug 2014).
In fact, he told the audience that Singapore should not stop its population growth projection at the 6.9 million figure listed in the Population White Paper. “That is an interim figure and projection and obviously Singapore is going to grow beyond that,” he said.
That is to say, in his view, Singapore’s population is “obviously” going to grow and exceed the 6.9 million number. He also added that Singapore was not as mature as those Scandinavian economies and therefore still needs immigration to grow the population.
Then in 2017, Liu told The New Paper in an interview that he stood by what he said in 2014 (‘Ex-HDB chief: Singapore must still aim for population of 10 million‘, 8 Nov 2017). He said at the time, “You cannot stop population growth, because as long as your economy is booming and you create new jobs, you need new population.”
No contact with government?
In the interview published last Friday, Liu repeatedly told the media multiple times that he had no contact with the Government or political leaders after he left public service in 1992, and the 10 million figure was his personal opinion.
The 10 million population controversy erupted again during election campaigning of GE 2020. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said he did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million, nor did he mention the figure. In fact, the Singapore population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030, He said.
In fact, Heng even posted a video to prove that he did not mention the 10 million figure at all during the said dialogue at NTU.
But interestingly, Heng did mention that he had met Liu:
“But seriously on the population issue, 6.9 million number that was put out earlier on. In fact, I met Mr Liu Thai Ker, our former chief planner, I think he had publicly said, it has been reported in the papers that we should go for even higher number and that how this little red dot can accommodate many more people. Now whether this little red dot can accommodate many more people actually is not strictly just a physical constraint. We cannot be thinking of 50 million people on this little red dot because it will just be so dense and unpleasant… But the population number is not just about physical space, it is also about the social space, it is about the sense of togetherness.”
Video (see 0:50):