Hutchison Whampoa chairman Li Ka-shing said his flagship company would pursue its multibillion-dollar investment in Hong Kong's fixed-line network if the Government gave it 'some time to breathe'. Mr Li did not elaborate but his comment was seen as a hint to the Government to delay its plan to liberalise Hong Kong's telecommunications market. The Government yesterday submitted proposals on opening up the telecoms sector to the Executive Council. Multinational telecoms companies are poised to expand their operations in Hong Kong if the proposals remove regulatory hurdles restricting entry. The move was opposed by the three existing licence holders - Hutchison Telecom, New World Telephone and New T&T - which argued that increased competition would hit profitability of their fledgling operations. To protect domestic operators, it was reported that the Government might decide to delay liberalising the sector until 2001 or 2002. Mr Li said he hoped the Government would give existing operators some time to prepare for future competition. 'If we have some time to breathe, we must invest in Hong Kong,' he said. However, he declined to specify the time period Hutchison needed. Mr Li also refused to say whether the company would reconsider its presence in Hong Kong's fixed-line market if the Government opened it up to foreign competitors immediately. However, he said he did not believe overseas investors would invest as aggressively as Hutchison, which planned to put more than $10 billion into its fixed-line network. Executives of Hutchison previously said that investment for the company's 10-year network would be $15 billion. Mr Li said his flagship companies - Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison - preferred to invest in Hong Kong even though the group's overseas business had performed well. Mr Li declined to say if Hutchison would consider seeking a listing in the United States. But he said a substantial number of Hutchison's units would be floated on the domestic market. 'It is very likely to be seen in 12 to 18 months,' he said. Hutchison Whampoa managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning on Monday said the company was studying plans to float mobile-phone units in Australia and Israel. Meanwhile, Mr Li said the property market had improved, as shown by recent sales results for Cheung Kong's projects.