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:
Everyone knows that in China, property developers work with the authorities. Without political resources, they can't do property development. That's why the wealth generated by property development is not from the free market. It is inappropriate for them to leave the country at will […] In the market economy, the logic is to buy at a low price and sell at a high price. However, for property and harbor businesses, these sectors are the least marketed, and without the help of authorities, there won't be any opportunities. You borrow the power in the name of cooperation. But when you sell it, you talk about market. This is double standard and it is not acceptable.
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:
香港四十大家族占据全港三分之二的财富，集中程度非常吓人。[…] “港人治港”的政策，客观上造就了豪族，而在回归之后，这种势力则更是有增无减[…] 为今之计，为争取民心，推动改革 […] 中央政府应权衡利弊，果断抛弃不再有利用价值的香港豪族，平抑豪族，扶持农工，在政治上，推动社会阶层的扁平化，在经济上，发展多元产业，防止一业独大。
Forty families in Hong Kong are in possession of two-thirds of the city's wealth. The level of concentration is appalling. […] “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” has created a super-rich class and such a trend has become more obvious after reunification with China. […] The only solution is to win the people's support with reform […] The central government should evaluate the situation and abandon the super-rich class, suppress their power and give benefits to ordinary people. Politically speaking, society has to be equalized, and economically speaking, the city has to be diversified and prevent the monopoly of a single industry.
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:
The ducks are the first animals to feel the cold temperature in a winter river. Ideological left-turn, the failure of Hong Kong electoral reform. Mr. Li feels unease about all these and has to go.
If he doesn't leave [China], his money will be confiscated by the communists…
In a couple of years, [China's biggest online shopping platform Alibaba founder] Jack Ma will run away as well.
Where has the rule of law gone? If Li Ka Shing has committed tax evasion or corruption while doing business in China, just use the law. You just dare not dig up [the corruption committed by] those big brothers affiliated with Li, but at the same time frustrated by Li's running away with that much gain. The political slogans sound more like jokes.
This article represents the official view. Upon reading it, Li is making the right decision to run away. Many have to run away too.