UP TO 1,300 expatriate contract civil servants' jobs could be at risk due to ''impossibly high'' Chinese-language requirements, a union leader has warned. A Government consultation paper released last week proposed expatriate terms be abolished, and that fresh applicants for permanent and pensionable status (P&P) - including officers on contract terms - be proficient in Chinese. But Association of Expatriate Civil Servants chairman Royston Griffey said the level required was too high, and predicted no one would be able reach it before their contract expired. Experienced Chinese-language teachers agreed, saying it would take expatriate officers several years to meet the requirement. ''This is an impossible task,'' said the union leader. ''No overseas expatriate [civil servant] can become fluent in Chinese in the time available before 1997. The only people who can pass are academics who have studied Chinese for many years.'' But a senior Government official claimed the standard was not too high, and said expatriates who had to start learning from scratch had only themselves to blame. ''These people have been claiming that they are locals,'' the official said. ''If they've been in Hong Kong and haven't learnt any Cantonese that is their problem.'' Mr Griffey claimed the proposal amounted to ''localisation through the back door''. ''This is discrimination, not on the basis of race but on the basis of languages. Both Chinese and English are official languages in Hong Kong,'' he said. ''We had one fight several months ago and it seems to me that there will be another fight on the Bill of Rights now.'' The Chinese-language requirement suggested in the consultation document on civil service terms of appointment and conditions of service, published last Monday, includes advanced proficiency in spoken Cantonese, sufficient for everyday use, and an intermediate knowledge of written Chinese, amounting to about 800 characters. Ho Cheuk-sang, assistant director of the New Asia Yale in China Chinese Language Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the standard would be ''rather difficult'' for expatriate civil servants, and was equivalent to level four of the institution's six-level language course. ''Chinese is a tonal language and it is difficult for foreigners to learn. For a full-time student in our course, it will take 15 months to reach this level,'' he said. Even if expatriate civil servants join the Government's part-time training course it would take them more than three years to reach the required level. But the course, which includes 21/2 hours of classes a week, is only offered to expatriate officers on demand. The consultation paper proposes civil servants be left to make their own arrangements to improve their Chinese. Meanwhile, Mr Griffey also claimed the requirement was unfair as it would not apply to existing P&P officers. ''If we are required to be proficient in Chinese, then should there be a requirement for local civil servants' [ability] in English?'' he said.