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Singapore High Commissioner calls for the race debate to be resolved quickly because Asians in Australia are becoming concerned by the implications of the argument

MONICA ATTARD: Despite Mr Howard's assurances, Singapore today added its voice to the chorus of Asian concern about the race debate. Ahead of ministerial talks to be held in Canberra this week, Singapore's High Commissioner, General Winston Choo, called for the debate to be resolved as quickly as possible. General Choo says Asians living in Australia are becoming concerned by the implications of the argument and he said this could mean a fall in the number of Singaporeans coming to Australia to study or, indeed, simply to visit. The High Commissioner told Graeme Dobell in Canberra that Asia wanted explicit statements from the Australian Government and the Parliament.

GENERAL CHOO: I think the region as a whole is trying to understand what is going on here, what does the Government stand for. And the latest things that have been going on in regards Asian immigration and things of that nature obviously lead to some questions that have been left unanswered to an extent.

GRAEME DOBELL: Is Singapore worried about this renewed immigration debate?

GENERAL CHOO: Not really so. I think it's not going to affect Singapore's bilateral relations with Australia, nor is it going to affect Singapore's businesses into Australia because I think Singapore's business people are hard-headed and level-headed. They know the difference between what an individual, Independent politician says in Parliament to that of what is the Government statement and the Government policy. And so far it is not Government policy and I think Singapore knows this.

But I think the people that get affected by this really would be Australians of Asian origins. There is some degree, understandably, for them to be concerned, to feel threatened and you must know most of them have still got lots of relatives, friends in the region. And their feelings, their sentiments would be transmitted. Now, if that is not checked, not carefully watched, then it will affect, in Singapore's case, Singapore students coming here. They will feel concerned whether they are going to be well received here. And it will affect tourism.

And you take one step further, if it affects tourism, then Singapore's businesses, business people who are involved in your tourist industry, for instance, will now think whether it is going to be worth while. So there's this kind of a concern that could take place if it is not carefully watched.

GRAEME DOBELL: Is that caution already affecting Singaporean decisions about Australia?

GENERAL CHOO: Not thus far, really. And from what I can see and from what I can speak ... I have spoken to Singapore business people, they don't seem to be concerned as yet. But, again, how far is this debate going to go on? And I think it is being given a lot of attention and the attention that is being given is really brought about by the media here. Why the media is doing it I really don't know.

GRAEME DOBELL: Mr Howard said in Parliament today that his position had been misrepresented by Asian media. Is it your view that the Prime Minister should have moved more forcefully to put his stamp on this debate?

GENERAL CHOO: Well, it is not my position to say what Mr Howard should do but if you ask me what could be done to try to ... some degree of assurance, maybe an all-party stand on this, all political parties in Australia getting together and stating what their views are and what do they stand for as far as immigration is for Australia.

GRAEME DOBELL: How has this debate impacted on Singaporeans living in Australia? What messages are you getting?

GENERAL CHOO: So far I myself, the people in my staff, have not been affected at all. Singapore-born Australians who are here, some of them have expressed concern, understandably so, but not yet to the extent of being really alarmed.

GRAEME DOBELL: There hasn't been any change in the way that Australians have been relating to Asians in the last couple of weeks as this debate has heated up?

GENERAL CHOO: Not that I know of directly though I've heard, and I don't think hearsay should be used to make a stand in this.

GRAEME DOBELL: But this is a debate about perceptions. What are the perceptions that are coming to you?

GENERAL CHOO: Well, the perceptions are indeed that where Asian-Australians are concerned, definitely they are. And they are wondering how much more of this is going to go and to what extent is this really the sentiments of middle Australia.

MONICA ATTARD: General Winston Choo, Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia.