Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 07:47
‘Occupy’ will hurt economy: Li
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is in danger of falling behind rivals, tycoon warns

The “Occupy Central” campaign will harm the economy and intensify social tension, warned billionaire tycoon Li Ka-shing, who pledged not to relocate the head office of Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa, as commitment to his confidence in Hong Kong.

Asia’s richest man reportedly appeared “by surprise” at a media lunch hosted by Chiu Kwok-hung, executive director of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, on Tuesday. The company later issued a statement to outline his views.

Li’s summary began with a pledge of faith. “I love Hong Kong and the country. Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa will absolutely not relocate and I believe they will stand strong in Hong Kong for many years to come,” he was quoted as saying.

The remark came at a critical time as Hutchison Whampoa is reviewing bids for the city’s second-largest supermarket chain, ParknShop, and Li’s business empire has sold some real estate projects on the mainland. The deals were seen as a sign of retreat.

Li said decisions to sell assets, including ParknShop, have been “commercial” in nature, and that his company had also spent HK$4 billion acquiring a container port in Hong Kong. Projects outside China may also be monetized in future.

Li also said the scope of business in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world will depend on the political and economic situation of the place. The company also shoulders an “absolute responsibility” to serve the interests of shareholders.

The “Occupy Central” campaign, in particular, drew Li’s concern. There are many ways to express views, he added, but he objected to any “confrontational” pursuit of democracy.

He feared the indefinite rally, slated for next summer, will cause harm to the city’s economy and reputation as a financial hub. The plan may also increase social tension without the clear prospect of serving its “democratic purpose”.

Two cities were named in his advice for Hong Kong. The free trade zone in Shanghai, he said, will have a major impact on Hong Kong, especially if full convertibility of renminbi is permitted in the zone.

Shanghai has already made good progress in the past, he noted, with the support of a pool of great talents from the Yangtze River Delta area. Guangdong also boasts great potential and he warned Hong Kong will fall behind if the city fails to catch up.

Singapore, on the other hand, has already surpassed the city in terms of GDP. The real estate developer, who abandoned manufacturing in his early career, also appreciated the island state for its high value-adding industry and housing-for-all policy.

He refuted notions that real estate developers have driven the city’s overheated home market. While he said “policy risks cannot be ruled out”, he did support the policy to dedicate more future land supply to public flats that are more affordable.

While Chairman of Henderson Land, Lee Shau-kee, agreed to let home prices slip for a couple of years before reviewing the demand-suppressing measures, Li warned the side effects of the taxes will surface next year, but refused to elaborate.

Cheung Kong currently sits on a local farmland reserve of 124.7 hectares. Asked for his views on exploiting country parks for property development, Li said the government should first negotiate better use of “lands that are outside the green belt”, as nature needs protection.

Li also revealed he had received a letter from the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Hong Kong, Tsui Lap-chee, to apologize for the recent reports of late payments of a donation from Li’s foundation. Li merely concluded that Tsui has a tough job.