Chinese President Xi Jinping’s interactions with the who’s who of Hong Kong during his visit to the city were more limited than five years ago but nonetheless set tongues wagging about perceived changes to the pecking order among the local elite. The new faces among the row of tycoons meeting him during a photo session with business and political leaders during his two-day trip caught the attention of many. Standing near Xi in the second row during the session were some “predictable” faces from the second generation of the city’s wealthiest families, including Henderson Land co-chairman Peter Lee Ka-kit, while Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of the city’s richest man Li Ka-shing, stood next to him. But there was also a less familiar face who stood right behind the president: Kerry Group’s Beau Kuok Khoon Chen, eldest son of Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok Hock Nien. The senior Kuok had joined the session when Xi first came to the city as president in 2017 on a three-day visit packed with 20 events. Another highlight of his visit this time was a trip to the Science Park where neuroscientist Professor Nancy Ip Yuk-yu was among those who got up close to Xi to showcase their research projects. Ip, who is also the incoming president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said she felt honoured by the occasion. “We, the researchers in Hong Kong, are deeply inspired by President Xi’s encouragement and recognition. This gave confidence to Hong Kong’s science and technology development,” she said on Saturday at a seminar. Xi ended his two-day trip to the city on Friday after officiating at the swearing-in ceremony of the new government and delivering a keynote speech. A day earlier, he met officials and representatives of various sectors and visited the Science Park. Photos released by the government on Xi’s short meeting with the more than 70 representatives showed those sitting in the front row were several pro-Beijing heavyweights such as Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Elsie Leung Oi-sie and Maria Tam Wai-chu, as well as 92-year-old Lui Che-woo, founder of developer K Wah. Why Xi Jinping’s speech is a ‘calming pill’ for Hong Kong’s doubters Others sitting on the side of the first row included Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, eldest son of late billionaire Henry Fok Ying-tung, and tycoon Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Both stood in the second row back in 2017 during the group meeting with Xi. Unlike in 2017, none of the first generation of the city’s influential property tycoons, such as Li Ka-shing, 93, and Wheelock’s Peter Woo Kwong-ching, 75, were present. Li was in the first row then, with Xi sharing a lengthy handshake with him. An invited guest said he was told all tycoon families could only send one representative due to pandemic restrictions. Thus only Victor Li, chairman and managing director of CK Hutchison Holdings, was present. New World Development did not have any representative present at the session. “But you can sense there is a little shift of power, with those pro-Beijing loyalists in the front, while younger and second generations of the tycoons could only be in the second row, and who stood in the middle was under consideration. People do care about where they stood,” the source said. Only about 70 guests were present this time compared with more than 200 people in 2017. Also in the second row this time was Robert Ng Chee Siong, son of late Sino founder Ng Teng-fong, as well as Christopher Kwok Kai-wang, executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties, alongside Peter Lam Kin-ngok, chairman of Lai Sun Development Company, and Brian Li Man-bun of Bank of East Asia. 7 top innovations President Xi Jinping saw at Hong Kong Science Park Both business mogul Allan Zeman and All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese vice-chairman Lo Man-tuen, in the second row, said they were pleased that Xi acknowledged them. “So when [chief executive] Carrie Lam introduced me to President Xi, he was like, ‘no need, I recognise him’. That was an honour to me,” Zeman said. The president was also seen waving at and talking briefly with some of the representatives, but he did not deliver any speeches or shake hands with them, according to official footage. Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said most of the big guns were in the first row, including Charles Ho, who held a role in the nation’s top political advisory body, while having second-generation tycoons in the second row did not mean their companies had less prominence. “The sons could not take their fathers’ spot if their fathers were unable to attend. The first row is reserved for those who are more senior,” he said. “Being in the first three rows of the photo could already prove recognition from Beijing.” Xi Jinping in Hong Kong: what the Chinese president’s entourage tells us The political commentator added that the arrangements could also have been affected by the pandemic. “The scale was smaller this year and some heavyweights may not have been able to attend as they needed to be put under ‘closed-loop’ and quarantine arrangements if they wished to attend the meeting,” he said. He cited how the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body Tam Yiu-chung was absent in the group photo as he had tested positive for Covid-19, while the city’s first postcolonial chief executive Tung Chee-hwa could not attend either.