Small investors proved more powerful than Beijing's top policymakers yesterday when minority shareholders of China Eastern Airlines scuppered a HK$7.16 billion tie-up with Singapore Airlines. Despite the green light from top officials, the long negotiated deal was resoundingly defeated by shareholders, who now expect a sweeter offer from the parent of Air China, China Eastern's biggest rival. 'We are worried that a tie-up with Singapore Airlines will be completed at the cost of small shareholders because the offering price is relatively low,' Wu Yiping, a woman in her 50s, told the packed shareholders' meeting in Shanghai yesterday. 'I am sorry to tell you that my family will vote against the deal.' The vote is a victory for reformers who want aggressive Wall Street-style business tactics to replace the politically stage-managed manoeuvrings of most state-run companies. It also sets China Eastern up in the middle of an expected bitter bidding war. In a stark contrast to most meetings on the mainland where investors sit without a word of dissent, yesterday's event was chaotic with frequent howls of anger as well as applause interrupting the proceedings. Shanghai-based China Eastern had planned to raise HK$7.16 billion by selling a 24 per cent stake to Singapore Airlines and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek Holdings for HK$3.80 per share. Many shareholders say this undervalued China Eastern, with Air China's parent China National Aviation Holding now planning to offer at least HK$5. More than 90 per cent of China Eastern's mainland-listed A shareholders and over 70 per cent of Hong Kong-listed H-share owners voted against the proposal. While many considered the vote a victory for the small investor, some market watchers say opposition from Air China was the real force behind the failure of the deal. China National Aviation Holding, which holds about 10 per cent of China Eastern, has orchestrated a campaign against the Singapore tie-up because of fears it would damage Air China's own expansion in the lucrative Shanghai hub. Huang Wujun, a retired worker, was among the few that supported the tie-up. Outside the hall, he openly criticised Air China bosses, accusing them of being envious of the lucrative deal. They were 'deliberately spoiling a good business plan,' Mr Huang said. 'I hope China Eastern stands firm.' Although China Eastern said it was unfazed by the failed tie-up, Luo Zhuping, an executive director at the carrier, said the company would respect the decision of minority shareholders and try to make amends.