CITY BEAT TAMMY TAM
City Beat
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Should Hong Kong welcome or fear mainland Chinese investment in wake of Li Ruigang controversy?

Issue arises after questions were raised about investment by China’s Rupert Murdoch in dominant free-to-air broadcaster TVB

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 10:47pm

When it comes to capital from across the border, should we immediately look upon it with suspicion as a reflection of mainland authorities trying to influence the city in some way? Or should we welcome it with open minds as a win-win investment, provided no Hong Kong regulations are breached?

This seems to be the big issue regarding mainland media mogul Li Ruigang, also known as China’s Rupert Murdoch, and a familiar name in Hollywood.

“I have many investments in the US entertainment business, I sit on the board of Creative Artists Agency [the world’s leading entertainment and sports talent agency, based in California], no one in the US suspects that I’m going to turn Hollywood red. How come here in Hong Kong, some people labelled me in this way?” the founder and chairman of media giant China Media Capital (CMC) lamented recently.

Admitting that “Hong Kong is a much more complicated place than I previously expected”, Li noted that a non-issue in other jurisdictions could be a big deal in the city, as evident in his investment in dominant free-to-air broadcaster TVB. He was perplexed by the paranoia over “ranhong”, or “turning red”, a local reference to mainlanders taking over and controlling Hong Kong businesses.

Soft power: China’s Hollywood dreams not just about making money, says media tycoon Li Ruigang

Li has come under the media spotlight as local regulators are looking into the dual-share structure of TVB after CMC’s investment, amid suspicion that the city’s most influential TV station is in fact controlled by someone who is not a Hongkonger.

Local broadcast law requires the licensee of a TV station to be a permanent Hong Kong resident. Some have even gone as far as to suggest there could be an invisible hand behind Li’s CMC – referring to authorities across the border.

Li, a household name on the mainland and a well-known investor in Hollywood, has come to realise that the controversy stems from suspicion in the city over possible mainland influence, plus a complicated share structure at TVB that is hard to follow.

That explains why he decided to break his silence last Friday. Making a detour to Hong Kong on his way back to Shanghai after a full week of meetings in Europe, Li explained that he had nothing to hide regarding his investment in TVB and just wanted to include Hong Kong in his ambition to globalise his business.

Meeting the media to give his side of the story, Li also dismissed any suggestion of vested interests trying to control TVB. At one point, he became quite emotional, telling reporters that his home town was actually Zhongshan in Guangdong province, where his father and grandfather spoke Cantonese, but the family later moved to Shanghai, where he grew up.

This link with Guangdong, he said, meant he had a special affection for Hong Kong. But more important, he genuinely felt Hong Kong could play a strategic role in the global entertainment empire he was building.

“I have the capital, I have the resources and I have a passionate heart towards Hong Kong, and that’s why I’m here.” he said. “I hope Hong Kong can be more receptive towards me. I want Hong Kong to be part of my globalisation plan.”

Understandably, Li may not be able to convince everyone yet. And, frankly speaking, it’s also a learning process for Li to understand the “unexpected” complexity of this city in every sense.

There is no doubt that the rule of law should be treasured and regulations strictly followed. However, equally important is for Hong Kong to keep an open mind to facilitate a more welcoming environment for all qualified investors.

In this regard, the public debate over Li’s situation does help clear the air for concerned parties.