Li Ka-shing voices his support for troubled Tang
Tanna Chong and Emily Tsang
In a highly unusual move, Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, yesterday publicly voiced his support for scandal-plagued chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen, while dismissing suggestions that he would withdraw his investments from Hong Kong if Leung Chun-ying wins the election.
Li's comments came amid warnings from Tang's tycoon supporters that a Leung administration could jeopardise the city's economy.
'There will be no such thing,' said Li yesterday morning in response to suggestions that Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa - companies controlled by his family - would take their investments out of Hong Kong if Leung wins the March 25 poll.
'I love Hong Kong,' he said. 'Hutchison Whampoa's investment in Hong Kong accounts for 15 to 16 per cent of its global investment.'
In a rare gesture, the tycoon spoke to TVB outside his house in Southern District, to declare his support for Tang.
The proportion of Hutchison Whampoa's investment in Hong Kong is higher than in any of its 52 other countries worldwide.
'I nominated Henry Tang,' said Li. 'His experience and work in the administration are good for Hong Kong. I will definitely vote for him on March 25.'
In previous years Li has commented on chief executive elections only during press conferences relating to the annual results of his flagship companies.
The property conglomerate has pledged five votes for Tang, who had 390 nominations.
Last week, Li's eldest son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, said Hong Kong's political environment was jeopardising the company's investment returns.
'The returns from overseas investment are hardly achievable in Hong Kong under the current political environment,' he stated on March 8. The comment was seen as an oblique warning against voting for Leung.
Another developer, Alan Chuang Shaw-swee, chairman of Chuang's Group, warned a day after Victor Li's comments that a Leung victory could cause a 30 per cent depreciation in the property market.
Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, a member of the General Chamber of Commerce and a Legco member for the commercial sector, said investors could withdraw their capital from the city if a person with no government experience became chief executive.
For more than a decade, Li's family has at times hinted at the possibility of relocating its investment from Hong Kong. In 1998, Li Ka-shing said he might pull out of a HKS$10 billion project because of worries about the 'political environment'. Two years later, he repeated the words at a company meeting.
Veteran Beijing loyalist Ng Hon-mun said Li's public support reflected Tang's poor election prospects.
'He was creating some leeway for himself by promising not to withdraw his investments even if Leung wins the seat,' said Ng, a former deputy with the National People's Congress.
'Business is business,' said Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University. 'Whoever wins the election, the tycoons will be able to fit into the new ecology. I don't think they can't work with Mr Leung.'