Singapore population push puts spotlight on Hong Kong

Rival's plans to allow in thousands of expats raises stakes for city, after its own attempts to halt fall in birth rate were branded a failure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 11:14am

A major push by Singapore to boost immigration over the next two decades has led to calls for Hong Kong to get its act together on population policy.

The Lion City unveiled ambitious plans yesterday to open its doors to hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers.

The move could see foreigners making up nearly half of Singapore's population by 2030.

It was inspired by concerns about the falling birth rate and ageing population, which mirror those in Hong Kong.

In a controversial white paper, Singapore officials said the city's population needs to rise by as much as 30 per cent over the next 17 years, to between 6.5 million and 6.9 million.

They plan to meet that target by taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens, including foreign-born professionals, and granting about 30,000 permanent resident permits each year. The Singapore proposals prompted accusations from some that an expatriate-led solution is a betrayal of locals.

They come days after Hong Kong's attempts to reverse its falling birth rate were branded a failure by Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, of the University of Hong Kong.

He is a member of a new steering committee, headed by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, tasked with formulating a population policy blueprint.

In response to Singapore's plan, Yip described the situation facing Hong Kong as "very urgent".

He blamed a lack of top-level planning, the responsibility for which he said could be laid in part at the door of the administration of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

It would be difficult to import foreign workers to Hong Kong as the community is unlikely to reach a consensus on such a move
Paul Yip Siu-fai, University of Hong Kong

He acknowledged that the Singaporean government did not face the same "political obstacles" as the SAR and also pointed out that the path the Lion City was taking might not be suitable for Hong Kong.

"It would be difficult to import foreign workers to Hong Kong as the community is unlikely to reach a consensus on such a move. However, the problem is very urgent as the city's workforce is on the decrease," he said.

Chinese University Professor Hau Kit-tai, also a member of the steering committee, said it would be difficult for Hong Kong to follow the Singapore model.

"Home prices are already high in Hong Kong. It could further push up the prices if more people move in," said Hau.

The policy paper, released by the National Population and Talent Division, said the proportion of Singaporean citizens would fall to 55 per cent by 2030, from 62 per cent last year, when the population was 5.31 million.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said: "Hong Kong in terms of density is much higher, and we must never try to reach that area."

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg