By Oiwan Lam.
Top Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing has been slowly relocating his business away from mainland China and Hong Kong since 2013, one year after Henry Tang, a candidate supported by the business sector, lost the city’s chief executive election to Leung Chun-ying.
His latest move involves selling off a Shanghai complex for 20 billion yuan (about US $3.14 billion dollars) and offshore company Cheung Kong Infrastructure proposing to take over his Hong Kong-based electric utility Power Assets Holdings, described by South China Morning Post as “the final episode of his well-planned exit from the city.”
Soon after the shuffling was announced, the Chinese government-affiliated policy research organization Outlook Think Tank published an article, “Don’t let Li Ka Shing run away”, that criticized the city’s business giants for taking benefits from China without fulfilling their social responsibilities, such as leading the business sector to maintain stability in Hong Kong, building economic housing and investing in social enterprises.
Though the article was quickly removed from the site, “Don’t let Li Ka Shing run away” has become a hot topic in Chinese social media — but with a twist. The majority of the comments have thrown the question back, asking why Li Ka Shing shouldn’t run away.
The creation of a ‘super-rich class’
The self-censored piece pointed out:
The article further blamed the idea of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong,” included in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that stipulated the terms of the UK handing over its former colony Hong Kong to China in 1997, for creating a super-rich class:
This is not the first time Chinese state-affiliated organs have criticized Li Ka Shing. In early January, Global Times ran an editorial urging the public not to be intimidated by Li’s plan to withdraw capital investment from China.
As a top leader in the business sector, Li has been a key person in the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work and he has many personal connections with the party’s executives, including the late Deng Xiaoping, the engineer of China’s liberal economic reforms. The open criticism of Li hence signifies a change to state policy in Hong Kong.
‘Li is making the right decision’
Though the article is right to point out the wealth disparity problem in Hong Kong and traces its roots to the collusion of government and business, many have found the prescription of “suppressing the rich, buying the support of the ordinary people, strengthening party-state legitimacy” (打压富豪，收买底层，扩大政权根基) reminiscent of the class-struggle campaigns during the anti-rightist movement in China and the Cultural Revolution.
In the headline news of China’s Twitter-like Weibo, the majority of Chinese netizens gave a thumbs down to the think tank’s article. Below is a selective translation of some typical comments in the news thread: