Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing is the largest foreign investor in the UK. He may soon have some competition. Step forward Cheung Chung-kiu (nicknamed “Chongqing’s Li Ka-shing”) who has just smashed the record for the biggest Chinese purchase of British real estate.
Cheung was born in 1964 in Chongqing and educated there until 1980, when he was given Hong Kong residency (with the help of his father, a government official who dealt with overseas affairs). At the time a permit to live in the British colony was a valuable asset as China had just opened the door to economic reforms. Cheung began trading electronic goods, umbrellas, watches and cassettes, which he would buy in Hong Kong and then resell in the mainland. After making some investment capital, he ventured into real estate, buying a large number of agricultural plots in the northern part of Chongqing and developing the city’s first large-scale residential project (known as California Garden).
The 29 year-old Cheung became one of the youngest listed company chairmen in 1993 when he floated one of his trading companies Yugang International – which translates into ‘Chongqing-Hong Kong’ – on Hong Kong’s stock exchange. Serving as a bridge between the two cities had become his key selling point. “In Hong Kong Cheung introduces himself as a Chongqing native who knows a lot of government officials, and he has the guanxi to get plenty of business opportunities. In Chongqing he says he is a Hongkonger who knows a lot of tycoons, and he can help bring in capital,” Next magazine once wrote of his networking skills.
Cheung’s reputation as the “Chongqing Li Ka-shing” began to grow and in 1999 Cheung took over a packaging firm controlled by Li’s brother-in-law. He renamed it CC Land and he began to expand into Hong Kong’s property market.
Cheung has a special taste for high-profile properties. In 2007 he invested $55 million in a Chinese-style mansion in Hong Kong with plans to demolish it to make way for luxury homes. Facing opposition from heritage activists, the government swapped the mansion for a larger piece of adjacent land. In 2015 Cheung spent HK$5.1 billion ($655 million) on an even more iconic piece of heritage: the Hotung Garden, formerly the home of Robert Hotung, Hong Kong’s richest man in the early twentieth century. Again, he plans to tear it down. More recently, he seems to be following Li’s strategy in moving more of his investment to the UK. Earlier this month he agreed to buy the Leadenhall Building in London, the Square Mile’s tallest tower (better known to Londoners as the “Cheesegrater”) for £1.135 billion ($1.4 billion).
Need to know
In February 2012 Chongqing was the political hotspot of China: the city’s former police chief Wang Lijun made a dash to the US consulate in Chengdu and the shocking incident was one of the key events in leading to the high profile Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai’s arrest a month later.
Ironically the shockwaves seemed to have rippled to Hong Kong via Cheung as well. A week after Wang’s arrest, the then Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang was spotted by media boarding Cheung’s private jet for a luxury “holiday treat”. The scandal led to an anti-graft investigation into Tsang too, who was recently sentenced to 20 months in jail (see WiC355).
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