Updated: 03/21/2013 07:58

Countries that don't grow population will "dissolve into nothingness" says ex-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew

Countries that don't grow population will "dissolve into nothingness" says ex-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew

by Imelda Saad

Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says a country that does not grow its population risks dissolving "into nothingness".

He was speaking at a wide-ranging dialogue session organised by Standard Chartered Bank.

Joining Mr Lee for the dialogue was former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve and former Chairman of US President Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, Paul Volcker.

This is the first time Mr Lee Kuan Yew is speaking about Singapore's changing demographics, since the Population White Paper was endorsed in Parliament.

The paper charts the country's strategies in managing a shrinking and ageing population.

A question on Japan's ageing society triggered the discussion.

Mr Lee noted how Japan refused to take in migrants - and that led to the situation it's facing today:

"To have a nation you must have people, and you must have young people to be able to drive the economy and young people buy the products. All these gadgets and fine dining and if you don't have that, and you refuse migrants as the Japanese do, you will just dissolve into nothingness! I think before that comes they may change policy."

A question also on China's one-child policy.

Mr Lee said China is headed in the wrong direction with this policy, as a shrinking and ageing population will mean assets, such as property prices, will go down.

He added Singapore is in a similar position with its low total fertility rate, but the difference is that Singapore takes in migrants to make up for the numbers.

Mr Lee pointed out though, that authorities here maintain a "certain quality of control".

That's one reason why he feels other emerging ASEAN economies are unlikely to surpass Singapore anytime soon:

"They'll make progress but if you look at the per capita they've got, the differences are so wide. Because we have the advantage of quality control of the people who come in. So we have bright Indians, bright Chinese, bright Caucasians. So the increase in population means an increase in talent."

Mr Lee said one key factor for Singapore's success is the confidence people have in the country's sound institutions and stable government.

Mr Lee said he doesn't see any developments that will change that situation in the short term of 5, 10 or 20 years:

"It will be very stupid of us to shake that confidence. The confidence rests on several pillars. Institutions, sound policies by the government, you can always predict what we're going to do in any given situation and open trading area."

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