When it comes to what Hong Kong should or should not be doing, tycoon Li Ka-shing is never short of views. In a wide-ranging interview with a mainland news outlet recently, Asia's richest man shared his thoughts on democracy, governance, poverty and competitiveness. What sets it apart from previous interviews was the tone. It appeared to be more negative and critical.
The warning that Hong Kong is lagging behind Singapore was nothing new. But what concerns Li is that the island state managed to outpace us without the advantage of China as a hinterland. But Hong Kong, despite support from Beijing, was like a "spoilt child" and was heading down a dangerous path of populism, he said. If the trend continued unabated, Hong Kong would degenerate into a totally different place in as few as five years, he added. His remarks on governance were also seen by some as a veiled attack on the chief executive.
That the top businessman is worried by the current situation is hardly surprising. He is not the lone business voice in this regard. Indeed, many people have been taken aback by recent socio-political developments and wondered what has happened to Hong Kong.
The negative sentiment appears to be shared by different stakeholders. Recent remarks made by state leaders suggest Beijing is not happy with the way the city is developing. Local officials have aired frustration about working with an increasingly assertive legislature. But our lawmakers hit back and complained they have limited powers. The public are also dissatisfied with the political, economic and social situation. There seems to be a growing sense of pessimism across society.
This sorry state of affairs speaks volumes about our divided society. Whether Hong Kong has been behaving like a spoilt child is open to debate, but Li's warning should serve as a fresh catalyst for the city to explore ways to improve social and political cohesion.