MR. SHANGKONG
Mr. Shangkong
by

From 'superman' to 'big tiger', Li Ka-shing loses favour with Beijing

To mainland propaganda officials, ex-'superman' Li Ka-shing is no longer a role model for Chinese

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 January, 2015, 12:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 January, 2015, 10:03am

It's official. Li Ka-shing is no longer Beijing's favourite businessman in Hong Kong.

Just a week after Li, Hong Kong's richest man and widely believed to have particularly good relations with former president Jiang Zemin, announced an overhaul of his empire, including re-registering his two new flagship groups abroad, mainland media launched a new round of war of words on Li.

Li's relationship with the mainland media has been more or less in trouble in recent years since he began to sell property assets in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Some mainland media began to portray Li as a speculator and even warned him that he should balance his business vision and his love for the motherland.

The Global Times, an influential sister newspaper of the People's Daily, the most authoritative mouthpiece of the Communist Party, ran an editorial last week taking a clear stance on Li, saying he is no longer an ideal role model for Chinese people. Instead, we should praise and learn more from businessmen from the younger generation like tech tycoons 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 a big ocean," the Global Times said in its editorial.

A signed commentary by a mainland columnist who described Li as a "big tiger in the property market" was published on Sina.com, China's top portal, and went viral on mainland social media. Those who follow Chinese politics will know "big tiger" is a term that became popular since Xi Jinping took power and began a nationwide anti-corruption drive against top-level corrupt officials and businessmen.

Those recently labelled "big tigers" include former security tsar Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua, a former top aide of ex-president Hu Jintao.

I won't list all the anti-Li articles that appeared in mainland media last week, but to me it is very clear that the propaganda officials have changed their minds and will no longer help boost the image of Li by calling him what they have for decades - "superman".

If it was just one or two articles complaining about Li's exit, then he may have little to worry about. But from Global Times to Sina, it looks more like a well-organised media campaign to announce the end of an era. If Li doesn't need China any more, Beijing doesn't need to rely on Li alone for Hong Kong affairs. Indeed, one era is over.

In Li's case, it may also reflect a long-term strategy by Beijing - the so-called "win-win" relationship. If it's not win-win, we are no longer "comrades". If that's still what top leaders like Xi believe, many overseas businessmen may have a good lesson to learn from Li's story.

 

George Chen is the SCMP's financial editor and a Yale World Fellow. Mr. Shangkong columns appear every Monday. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit facebook.com/mrshangkong

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