Al to play for as pccw and china netcom match enters second half The World Cup has yet to throw up anything nearly as exciting as the match between PCCW and China Netcom. What a week it has been for PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai. First, Macquarie, where his mentor Simon Murray wields considerable power, stepped up with a $55 billion plus offer for PCCW's key assets. It was quickly trumped by a $55 billion to $60 billion offer from TPG Newbridge, where Mr Li's erstwhile investment partner Tim Dattels calls the plays. Even better for Mr Li's battered image, perhaps, is that in some quarters of the local media he's suddenly being portrayed as the champion of minority shareholder interests against those of the Chinese government. Only a counter-offer from Netcom could top that for surprise, but it looks unlikely. Here's the Lai See report card on the performance of the players to date: 1. Prince Richard: Wants out and will probably get his wish. Still, if anything goes wrong at this stage, he could become persona non grata both here and in the mainland. 2. Jack So Chak-kwong (left): Neck-deep in the plot. Unlike his boss, though, PCCW's group managing director appears to be home-free. Just three months ago, he signed a new three-year contract that whoever winds up running the company will have to buy out. And he stands to make a killing on his 22 million shares. 3. Shareholders: Undoubtedly happy to see their shares gain a buck. Mind you, a lot of them bought at the top of the market six years ago, so they can forget about recouping their losses. The only real gainers are speculators and insiders. 4. Netcom chairman Zhang Chunjiang: Keeping his head down, not surprisingly. If his state-run firm were to make a face-saving counter-offer, it would probably have to pay far more than the assets are worth. 5. TPG Newbridge and Macquarie: Deserving of a medal from InvestHK for their willingness to pay megabucks for a declining telecommunications franchise. 6. Li Ka-shing (right): Always a winner. But these days, he probably wakes up wondering what's on Apple Daily's front page. china's challenger scores a hat-trick Speaking of Apple Daily, Richard Li has made the running on its front page three days in a row, eclipsing Bus Uncle's recent record. The paper has been quick to characterise the whole episode as a 'battle with Beijing'. If it were true, what would a businessman have to gain by antagonising China? Among the many suggestions Lai See has heard, one is intriguing, if implausible - that Mr Li thinks that if he were known as someone with the guts to defy China, it might rub off profitably on the Hong Kong Economic Journal, should he ever achieve his desire to acquire it. Hey, it worked for Jimmy Lai Chee-ying at Apple Daily. in a spin Mr Li's favourite spin doctor has always been Arnie Tucker, going back to their days at Star TV. Lai See hears that Mr Tucker was flown into town first-class two weeks ago to map out a propaganda strategy for the assault on Netcom. He was assisted by investor relations firm Brunswick, headed by former South China Morning Post and Hutchison hand Ray Bashford, and two of PCCW's staff spinners. No wonder PCCW can produce four different versions of the same story every day. can't take it with you Among the sacrifices Henry Paulson (below) had to make before agreeing to become George W. Bush's new treasury secretary was an interest in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest mainland bank. The former Goldman Sachs chairman had invested in Goldman Sachs Capital Partner Fund, which paid US$2.58 billion for a stake of more than 6 per cent in the bank. That investment had to go, along with his 3.23 million Goldman Sachs shares, which were worth some US$485 million.