Interview reveals Li Ka-shing's past political thoughts

Asia's richest man's musings with media highlight the need for business to speak up

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 6:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 6:37am

Many wondered why Asia's richest man, Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa chairman Li Ka-shing chose the mainland media, rather than a Hong Kong outlet, to reveal many of his inner thoughts and rebut accusations about his group's "withdrawal from Hong Kong".

Another puzzle was why Li was expressing his interest in politics now.

"If I could turn back time and restart [my life], maybe I might have chosen to participate in politics," Li told the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Group reporters.

Wow. What a statement. But when readers tried to find out what Li really meant, to the disappointment of many, he did not elaborate further. It was also disappointing that the reporters had no follow-up questions.

Li was very open and set the tone of the interview by saying that he was willing to answer whatever questions were raised, which he did. He even touched on a long-time taboo - the kidnapping of his elder son. It was therefore a great pity that the reporters did not press Li further as to what his political interests would have been.

Time is a river of no return that no one can reverse, regardless of how powerful one is. That may partly explain Li's sentimental remarks about not getting involved in politics in his early years. But why didn't he? We will never know, unless there is a chance to ask him again.

Some guessed Li might have been hinting that he should have run for the post of Hong Kong's first chief executive like two of the then candidates with a business background - Tung Chee-hwa and Peter Woo Kwong-ching. Tung, who was from a shipping business family, won the top job and served as the chief executive for seven years, but had an extremely hard time and resigned before he could finish his second term.

Woo, chairman of the Wharf Group, was then the youngest among the four chief executive candidates. He failed and returned to business, remaining an influential public figure in town.

Some people speculated that Li might have been talking about starting a political party or taking up a certain political position on the mainland, such as becoming a National People's Congress delegate or joining the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

No one can be sure of what Li intended to do except himself. But one thing we can be sure of is that if Li had formed a political party to speak for the business sector it would have changed the political landscape in Hong Kong.

As for taking up a political appointment from Beijing, it is understood he was offered a very senior CPPCC post years ago, but turned it down as he preferred to stay in business.

It is all just a guessing game. A wise man like Li knows there is no turning back, thus looking forward is always more constructive. But his remarks did reveal one reality in this city - the lack of political representatives from the business world, reflecting that sector's relatively passive attitude towards politics.

Li's comments serve as a timely reminder to business that times have changed, it has to participate more actively in politics now and in the future if it is to speak for its own interests.

The widening wealth gap is intensifying many social conflicts and this has put the business sector in the middle of many hot issues.

It is time it took to the stage to present its case, rather than taking a behind-the-scenes lobbying role.

One thing the business sector can do immediately is to voice its views on the consultation on 2017 universal suffrage, which may make the lives of business-people more political.