Connect the dots - don't dote on connections

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 January, 1998, 12:00am

Is guanxi (connections) all it is cracked up to be? First, Pearl Oriental Holdings and now, it seems, Robert Chua's China entertainment TV channel have found it is perhaps not.

Both set store by their mainland connections and both have now come unstuck at the hands of mainland investors - with both threatening recourse in the courts.

Robert Chua's 'no sex, no violence, no news' Mandarin channel was designed as much as possible to appeal to Beijing's sense of what good TV should be about. Yet now the deal has gone sour, Beijing seems happy to sit back and watch the channel go under.

Yesterday, in front of a packed house of reporters, a slightly red-faced Mr Chua attempted to reinterpret his particular guanxi.

'Guanxi goes in different ways. Some based on the power of companies and their position. All I can say is that I maintain good guanxi in terms of TV,' Mr Chua said.

He and his company appear to have been tripped up not just by believing their own hype about guanxi, but that of others too - particularly that of Mr Kan Shu-tsang, the de facto leader of the mainland consortium which allegedly pulled out of its US$34.3 million offer for an 80 per cent share of CETV.

'He owned big buildings, three hotels and a large studio,' Mr Chua said. 'He wined and dined us with exclusive dinners. There's even a book about him. So we were impressed.' So when Mr Kan claimed influential guanxi, the CETV boss was happy to believe. Now, three weeks away from the possible closure of CETV, caused largely by the failure of this deal, Mr Chua is not so trusting.

'In future, I'll look for more evidence before I go in,' he said.

When a company's bottom line starts to go through the lining of its trousers, it is hardly surprising that directors shy clear of talking to the media.

However, China United Holdings' senior executives seemed to want to crawl into a hole when they announced a return to the black in their interim results after a loss-making period.

Reporters who were sent to cover the company's Special General Meeting at the Business Centre of Empire Hotel in Wan Chai arrived at the appointed start time of 9am, only to find the meeting was in full swing - albeit with the conference doors firmly closed.

As each minute passed by, more newspaper reporters and photographers arrived, but the door mysteriously remained shut.

By 9.20am the tension in the reception area of the business centre, a space the size of the gents' loo in an office block, was considerable, with more than a dozen media representatives grumbling about their treatment.

Then suddenly, the door opened. One man came out and left the hotel. The door shut. A minute later it opened again. This time two men came out and left the premises, leaving the assembled media baffled.

At 9.25am, the doors opened again to allow the reporters in. Any feeling of triumph was short-lived since they quickly discovered every single one of the directors had already left. Managing director Peter Lam How-mun had led the escape, allegedly to attend a 9.15am meeting.

All that was left for the news-hungry hacks to feed on was a luxurious breakfast buffet - and a company spokesman who hotly denied her senior staff had snuck out before they had to face an interrogation about their good results.

A fax reached Lai See yesterday that did not have a signature. Judging by its contents, however, it must be from that famous Hong Kong double act Messrs Bitter and Twisted of Chek Lap Kok.

April still seems to be the official opening date for the new airport. This is despite the fact it is as hard to find someone who actually believes the April date will come off as it is to find someone under the Kai Tak flight path who hasn't got significant hearing damage.

Our correspondent puts his own spin on the will it/won't it be April question.

'The new 1998 Airport Authority calendar was about to be issued, but now it has been withdrawn, pending a reprint. The calendar currently shows January, February, March, April, April, April, April, April . . .' All publicity is good publicity, the old axiom tells us. That may be true for the Spice Girls, but it certainly isn't for stock exchange new boys Kim Eng Holdings (Hong Kong).

The brokerage is due to list on the exchange today but you would never know from its profile, which has become almost subterranean in the run-up to its initial public offering.

Normally companies hire a public relations company to organise a presentation and press briefing before their public offering. But Kim Eng has gone for the strong and silent approach to publicity.

A whisper comes from sponsors ABN-Amro Rothschild that Kim Eng wants to keep a low profile. Is it because this is not a happy time to make an IPO? Or has the company retained a seer who forecast months ago that the Hang Seng would drop 250 points in the morning before its listing?