Tycoon Li Ka-shing downbeat over Hong Kong’s future
Tycoon warns over competitiveness, Occupy Central and harassment of mainland tourists
Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest man, gave a downbeat assessment of Hong Kong's situation yesterday, warning that the Occupy Central campaign, the harassment of mainland tourists and declining competitiveness with neighbouring markets would erode the city's prospects.
Li also said he was upset about the news that Hong Kong has been replaced by Beijing as the venue for a meeting of Apec finance ministers and central bankers.
"The move to occupy Central does not benefit Hong Kong," he said. "If this happens, it will give a bad impression to outsiders ... even if it just lasts for one hour, it will be harmful to the city."
The campaign wants to stage a sit-in protest in the city's business district this year if electoral changes fail to meet its expectations.
Li spoke at the post-earnings results press conference of his flagship companies - Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa.
Cheung Kong posted a 10 per cent rise in its net profit to HK$35.26 billion for the year ended December last year, and Hutchison Whampoa reported its net profit for the year ended December up 20 per cent to HK$31.11 billion. Both were better than analysts' expectations.
Li said Hong Kong people need to stop complaining about Chinese tourists because they help support the city's economy.
"It will be very difficult for Hong Kong if there's no support from China." Li referred to the harassment of mainland tourists during a protest in Kowloon last month in which demonstrators targeted shoppers in Tsim Sha Tsui,
"Stop scolding China tourists, this is totally wrong," he said. Visitor arrivals to Hong Kong from China jumped about 17 per cent to 40.8 million last year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
In what seen as an unusual move, Li repeatedly expressed sadness about recent happenings in the city.
"I was saddened that Hong Kong has been replaced by Beijing to host the Apec conference. I hope Hong Kong can be recognised by our own country and other countries as the ideal place to host such international meeting," he said.
He was disheartened about the recent brutal attack of former Ming Pao chief editor, Kevin Lau, that sparked off concern over freedom of press in Hong Kong, and upset by the continuous reports criticising that he is pulling out of Hong Kong, despite his repeatedly denials.
Commenting on Hong Kong's competitiveness and opportunities, he said that the city's competitiveness should be strengthened. The gross dometic product of Hong Kong and Singapore were at similar levels in 1997, he said. But now Hong Kong's per capita GDP is now about one-third less than that of Singapore.
Li was ranked the richest man in Asia by Forbes magazine with a net worth of US$32 billion last year. But the ranking could be threatened by Galaxy Entertainment chairman Lui Che-woo, who has ridden Macau's casino boom to become Hong Kong's second-richest person, with a net worth of US$21 billion.
Li said that in a period of at least 10 years in the past, foreign magazines, which he did not identify, had underestimated his wealth by more than 40 per cent because they did not regard Canada's Husky Energy as one of his assets.
"Actually I am the biggest shareholder in Husky, slightly more than Hutchison. That's a personal investment. But I don't bother to point out," he said.
Li also reiterated he had no plan to retire.