Fellow businesspeople share Li Ka-shing's view that Hong Kong should not go down the path of "rule of man", according to two business leaders.
One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 85-year-old tycoon's comments, made to the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Media Group, indicated his discontent with Leung Chun-ying's administration.
Defending the city's core values, Li said: "Hong Kong cannot go down the path of 'rule of man'. Hong Kong has many core values, such as an open and free market and the rule of law, which are not come by easily." He warned that those values would be lost if the administration mishandled things.
Rule of man is generally taken to mean the absence of rule of law and a society where one person, or a group, rules arbitrarily.
The business leader said: "Li feels he and his business flagships have been targeted since Leung became the chief executive. He sounded the message to protect himself and hit back against criticism he deems unreasonable."
Leung, on a visit to Guangxi yesterday, agreed Hong Kong was a city that treasured rule of law. Asked whether he would mend fences with property developers, the chief executive said: "I have been maintaining dialogue and good relations with various sectors and the business community." Li's Cheung Kong (Holdings) is one of the city's top property developers.
Executive councillor Bernard Chan agreed Hong Kong should never practise rule of man. "New leaders around the world may have their own style but they still need to follow the laws."
Li backed Leung's rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, in last year's election for chief executive and it is widely believed he is not on good terms with the administration.
Li also commented on Leung's moves to alleviate the gap between the rich and poor, saying that a "free lunch" approach was not the solution.
"Many businesspeople appreciate that Leung's initiatives might be well-intentioned but he implemented them in a rash manner," the unnamed business leader said. "Many business leaders have been disappointed with him … and those voices have emerged as mainstream opinion within the business community."
A leading member of a business chamber said grievances had been piling up within the business circle. "It is very stupid of Leung to introduce populist policies detrimental to businesses, which had been supporting him," he said.
He said Li had spoken out as the tycoon "probably felt he was being targeted by Leung so he had to show to Beijing he was hitting back".
The chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Stanley Lau Chin-ho, said: "We see no sign Hong Kong is ruled by man. We are still open and free."