SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has denied saying Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million, stating on Thursday (Jul 2) he expects the population to be "significantly below" 6.9 million by 2030.
This comes after a live political debate on Wednesday night when Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan spoke about Mr Heng "toying with the idea" of increasing Singapore's population to 10 million.
Countering that was the People's Action Party's (PAP) representative at the debate, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who accused Dr Chee of making a false statement and raising a "straw man".
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Heng wrote: "As the Straits Times clarified this morning, I did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did I mention the figure."
At a student union forum at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2019, Mr Heng was asked about the Government's 2013 Population White Paper, which had projected a 6.9 million population by 2030.
Mr Heng's response at the dialogue was covered by The Straits Times in an article published in March last year, titled: Heng Swee Keat on S’pore staying open: We don't want a world where people build walls.
In the article, The Straits Times reported that Mr Heng said the White Paper figure goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be, and that social space is as important.
"Singapore's population density is not excessive, he (Mr Heng) said, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space," the article continued.
The article then said Mr Heng cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.
Mr Heng clarified on Thursday that his response was referring to how Mr Liu, a former chief executive of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, had publicly said that "we should go for an even higher number".
"Far from endorsing this, I 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," Mr Heng added.
On Wednesday, the National Population and Talent Division said in a media statement the Government has no plans for Singapore to increase its population to 10 million, as claimed by some online platforms amid election campaigning.
"Let me be clear: The Government has never proposed or targeted for Singapore to increase its population to 10 million," Mr Heng wrote on Thursday.
"And if we look at today’s situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030."
Later on Thursday, the SDP issued a press release saying the party objected to Dr Balakrishnan's accusation that Dr Chee had raised a "strawman" argument.
"The idea of a 10-million population is not an (SDP) invention or imagination. It was first broached by Mr Liu Thai Ker, whom Mr Heng cited in his comments and reported by the Straits Times," the SDP said.
It also invited the PAP to say what its target population is beyond the "vague" statement that it would be "significantly below" 6.9 million.