Monday, 19 January 2015

China Changes Tune on Li Ka-shing

The tycoon used to be lauded on the mainland, but now China thinks less of him
Hong Kong's "Superman" Li Ka-shing used to be the darling of the city, but in the last few years, particularly during the dock workers' strike in March 2013, things got ugly, tarnishing his image.

People also grew tired of his companies that are so ingrained in our lives (Park 'n' Shop, Watson's, Fortress, Hong Kong Electric, Cheung Kong, and venture capitalism with Horizons Ventures), that residents grumbled under their breath for him for having such a big stake in Hong Kong.

However for the longest time, China held him up in high regard, mainly for his investments and donations on the mainland, and the government told its people this was the man to emulate.

No more.

Last week Li announced he would be restructuring his businesses and re-registering them in the Cayman Islands, which will boost shareholder value more than anything else.

This did not please Beijing one bit, with state media launching a negative campaign against him.

In the last few years Li started selling his assets in cities like Beijing and Shanghai; this caused the Chinese media to brand him as a speculator, and warned him to balance his business vision and his love of the motherland.

Last week Global Times ran an editorial, saying the tycoon is no longer an ideal role model for the Chinese, and that instead people should learn from the younger generation, such as Jack Ma Yun of Alibaba and Lei Jun of Xiaomi.

"In comparison to the huge size of the Chinese economy, Li Ka-shing's total investment in China is now like a drop in the ocean," the editorial said.

Definitely a sign of belittling the businessman despite his previous contributions to China's economy.

One mainland columnist went as far as to describe Li as a "big tiger in the property market", alluding to Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive of "catching tigers and flies".

Now that Li's influence in China is waning, perhaps he has been downgraded to a "fly", but in any event, he's not welcome with open arms to the motherland anymore.

Not that Li probably cares; he's only looking out for his own interests.

And that may be the only point that Hong Kong people and China may agree on.

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