My Take

How Beijing is changing its tune on the once revered Hong Kong tycoons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 1:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 2015, 9:10am

For a long time, it was an article of faith in Beijing that the cooperation and well-being of the tycoons were necessary for Hong Kong's business stability and successful transfer of sovereignty.

Those were the days when former president Jiang Zemin made sure he stayed at a Hung Hom hotel owned by Hong Kong's richest man whenever he was in town. As well, he would usually have private lunches with Li Ka-shing and his two sons. Those days are long gone.

For reasons that no one is really sure of, some mainland state-backed media outlets including People's Daily have decided to round on Li. Once dubbed Superman, Li's reputation and prestige have taken a hit in recent years.

It has long been one of the pan-democrats' political narratives that the Hong Kong government is in collusion with big businesses, especially those controlled by the property tycoons. And Li, with businesses that span property, cargo terminals, supermarkets, telecom, drugstores and power supply, has been a prime target.

What is new is that the tightly controlled media on the mainland have lately joined the chorus from Hong Kong.

The fortune of the local tycoons has certainly taken a turn for the worse since Leung Chun-ying took office as chief executive.

We have one of the brothers of Sun Hung Kai Properties serving a five-year jail term.

Li made no bones about his support for Leung's election rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, as did most of the best-known tycoons and business chiefs.

Leung's harsh measures against an over-heating property market surely did not endear him to the powerful real estate sector. It remains to be seen how long he will keep up the measures in the face of an anticipated fall in flat prices.

Maybe Li is right that the recent mainland media attacks don't necessarily reflect Beijing's view of him. But 18 years after the handover, Beijing is certainly right to conclude that what's good for our tycoons is not necessarily good for Hong Kong.

At best, they are no longer essential. At worst, they may have become a political liability.

Just ask Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the former chief executive. His perceived cosy relations with some of the city's rich guys have earned him a graft investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.