Cheung Kong and Hutchison will never leave Hong Kong. But their scale is another matter, says Li Ka-shing
Asia's richest man says it's a 'big joke' to accuse him of pulling assets out of city and mainland
Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, has come out to defend himself after being accused by commentators of “pulling out of Hong Kong” following recent decisions to sell key assets of his flagship companies.
“You accuse me wrongly. Today, I am striking back,” Li, 85, said in a 150-minute interview with Guangzhou-based Nanfang Media Group.
He said such transactions occur in the normal course of business and it is a "big joke" to use them as evidence Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa are pulling their assets out of Hong Kong and mainland China.
Li’s remarks followed widespread reports that he was moving his assets abroad after selling three commercial properties – one in Shenzhen, one in Shanghai and one in Beijing – for a total of 12.8 billion yuan (HK$16.2 billion).
Hutchison had planned to sell its ParknShop supermarket chain but withdrew the plan after offers by prospective buyers were deemed insufficiently attractive.
“Using [the asset sales] as an example of pulling out of assets is absurd,” Li said.
Li said his group of companies spent HK$13 billion this year on overseas investments (in New Zealand and Holland) with a capital investment of HK$8 billion.
“At the same time, we also invested HK$4 billion in our terminal business [in Hong Kong this year]. How can it be described as pulling out of assets … It is groundless,” Li said.
“Sell high and buy low is normal business behaviour … I have done business internationally for more than 30 years. It is the first time I’ve heard comments about ‘pulling out assets’ from Hong Kong … Now that has spread to the mainland.”
Li said: “We have investments in 52 countries in various businesses, including property. We have sold assets in different countries, in some cases making a profit of more than HK$100 billion. They did not make any criticism.”
He cited his group’s investments in Singapore.
“In the past 20-30 years, we have built up a very good relationship with the government. We have sold assets worth billions of dollars,” Li said.
“We have not bought suitable sites in Singapore because of high land prices. Now we have fewer than 1 per cent of units [there] remaining unsold. We do not have any rental properties there. But we have never heard any criticism about ‘pulling out assets’ from Singapore.”
Li said the easiest way to leave Hong Kong would be to move his companies’ domiciles from Hong Kong.
But he said: “I will not move their domiciles from Hong Kong. Cheung Kong and Hutchison will never leave Hong Kong. But the scale [of their businesses] is another matter. I have the responsibility to protect shareholders’ interests.”