Li sounds Shanghai warning

Li w

The annual press conference for Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa has traditionally been one of Hong Kong’s most anticipated media events. That’s because Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, takes the time to answer questions on a range of subjects – from whether it’s the right time to buy a flat to his views on Hong Kong politics.

This year Li decided to opt out of the meeting, following an awkward few weeks after announcing that he will sell ParknShop, Hong Kong’s leading supermarket chain. The sale has prompted speculation about whether he is losing confidence in Hong Kong.

But no matter. Superman, as he’s often called in Hong Kong, was back in the limelight this week. According to the China Daily, Li appeared “by surprise” on Tuesday at a media lunch hosted by Chiu Kwok-hung, executive director of Cheung Kong Holdings.

Turning on the charm, he told reporters: “I love Hong Kong. Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa will absolutely not relocate and I believe they will stand strong in Hong Kong for many years to come.”

In the past Li has generally dodged political questions. However, this time round, when a reporter asked him about social protest and Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” movement, the billionaire couldn’t seem to hold back. Li said: “Personally I do not agree with occupying Central. It will adversely affect Hong Kong’s image as a financial city and have a negative impact on the city’s economy,” adding that there are many ways to express an opinion and it doesn’t have to be “confrontational”.

More importantly, he made some pretty grave predictions about Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s financial centre too, saying that Shanghai’s new free-trade zone will help it to catch up and even surpass Hong Kong quicker than most people imagine.

“[The free-trade zone] will have a big impact on Hong Kong,” says Li. “It has different aspects, including financial services. When the yuan becomes fully convertible, it will benefit the development of Shanghai.”

According to the Shanghai Daily the zone will “launch” on September 29 (see WiC202). The newspaper also adds that the Ministry of Commerce has confirmed that Shanghai is the only place in the country to have been given the go-ahead for a free-trade location so far.

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