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03.10.2014 19:50

Li Ka-shing's Remedy for 'Coddled' HK

The city's residents are growing uneasy with the wealth gap, the octogenarian tycoon concedes, but his solution is education, not populism
By staff reporters Hu Shuli, Wang Shuo and Hong Kong correspondent Wang Duan
 

(Hong Kong) -- Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing is again in the media spotlight after he mentioned in late February the possibility of publicly listing his retail business A.S. Watson Group, which is part of the Hong Kong-listed conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa.
 
"No matter what, if Watsons was to list in two locations, Hong Kong will definitely be one of them," Li said.
 
There has been speculation that Li is preparing to pass the torch to his oldest son, Victor Li, because he did not host a press conference for the company's results announcement last year. But the 85-year-old billionaire told reporters on February 28: "I'm not considering retirement."
 
In July, Hutchison Whampoa announced a plan to sell Hong Kong supermarket chain ParknShop, raising speculation Li will transfer his business operations overseas. This prompted some criticism, but in November, he met with the media to say he is not pulling up stakes, calling the speculation nonsense.
 
Li grew up in poverty, and has seen his fortune grow amid great changes in Hong Kong's society. The people of the city seem to be changing their view of Li. A decade ago he was seen as "Superman Li," but now many say his family controls too many aspects of their lives, from daily necessities to utilities and property.
 
Many people say Hong Kong's declining economic status in the region is supported by such discontent regarding the rich. Ye Xiang, a former advisor of the Hong Kong Securities & Futures Commission, said that as the relationship between the former British colony and the mainland grows closer, some of the city's residents believe that they have not enjoyed the benefits equally.
 
Li says the rise of populism in the city is dangerous. "Hong Kong is like a coddled child," he said. "If this kind of popular sentiment festers, it could very well impair the Hong Kong as we know it beyond our recognition in a few years."
 
Li has spoken to Caixin several times recently about the development of Hong Kong and his own business strategy. The following is the first of a two-part series:
 
Caixin: What is behind the rise of populism in Hong Kong in recent years? What do you think the solution is?

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