Photo of Lee Hsien Loong from Straits Times Desmond Wee

At the forum held by state media Straits Times and the Economic Development Board (EDB) yesterday (Jan 20), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that there is no unemployment problem in Singapore and that more foreigners means more growth:

“My growth rate is constrained by how many people I have. And if I have more workers, more students coming out who are well-trained, well-educated, I can grow faster. That is the constraint rather than ‘I have so many people coming out, where are the jobs to be found’.

If you look at foreign worker numbers in Singapore, there are still substantial numbers. Growth has slowed… but jobs are available and quite often employers can’t find suitable Singaporeans so that’s why they bring in foreigners. But if we can produce Singaporeans with skills, jobs will be there and we will be able to employ them.”

However, recent manpower statistics shown that job seekers have outnumbered job vacancies by 100 to 91.

Prime Minister Lee also responded to the China’s recent investments in Malaysia, where not even a fraction of the billions were channeled into Singapore:

“China’s investment in neighbouring Malaysia as a plus rather than a threat. When people invest in Singapore, we don’t see this as being a threat to our neighbours – we tell them it’s good for them if Singapore prospers and we can serve you better. And if Malaysia prospers, we can do more business with them.

We are already competing with Malaysia in terms of ports and it boils down to who can run a port better and more efficiently. But if there is an opportunity to not just compete but cooperate with each other, we should do that. Even between Singapore and Port Klang for example, it’s not entirely a win-lose because when business comes into the region, there are opportunities for Singapore too.”

Lee Hsien Loong however downplayed Singapore’s deteriorating relations with China, and avoided commenting on the military training in Taiwan:

“There are ticklish issues to manage like the South China Sea, where Singapore is chairing the ASEAN-China engagement and we are working towards a code of conduct. We don’t see eye to eye but neither are we opposed to each other. These are things we have to deal with from time to time and which we have to take in our stride. Cooperation is win-win. If it happens, good for both sides. If it doesn’t, that’s a pity. But in relations between countries you must always expect difference of views, otherwise it’s unnatural, and we must be able to manage them without affecting the overall relationship.

We are friendly with both China and America. We have more security cooperation with America than China and there are good reasons for that. We have explained this to the Chinese too and they understand that we have worked with America for a long time. They supply a lot of equipment for the Singapore Armed Forces and they are important for our security in Southeast Asia and therefore we have to maintain that. But it doesn’t mean we are against China.”

At the dialogue, Lee Hsien Loong was given a award by his Economic Development Board for “developing the economy”.