20 October 2018
Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee has made clear his displeasure over the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg
Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee has made clear his displeasure over the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

Tycoons begin their talk-show on Occupy Central

Call it a form of corporate social responsibility, or perhaps just another example of government-business collusion. Leading tycoons in Hong Kong have begun to speak up against the Occupy Central movement, echoing Beijing’s line that the protest initiative could harm Hong Kong’s interests and undermine the city’s political and economic progress. 

On Wednesday, tycoon Lee Shau-kee tried to talk down Occupy Central, saying the movement will not succeed as people are more worried about its potential negative impact on Hong Kong society.

“Our staff will not participate in it, or else they are breaking their rice bowl,” said Lee, after an annual meeting of his flagship firm Henderson Land.

It was the first time that Lee, who co-owns the landmark office tower International Finance Centre Two in the Central district, has spoken against the Occupy Central movement, but it was not the first time his family has made its loyalties clear.

Three months ago, his elder son Peter Lee Ka-kit fired shots at the group behind a Hong Kong University opinion poll series, saying it was manipulating public opinion and publishing poll results that were unfavorable to the central and local governments at critical moments.

The younger Lee had shocked the local media as he read out a strong statement in perfect Putonghua.

Another out-of-character act came from Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching, who described Occupy Central as an “unwise move” and said the pan-democrats’ universal suffrage crusade was like “emperor without any clothes”.

Woo spoke for an hour during his company’s annual meeting on the issues, in a move that was seen by observers as being motivated by Beijing’s wish to have its views propagated by Hong Kong’s top elite.

The tycoons sure have their reasons to speak up and show political loyalty to the government. Wharf Holdings, which runs the largest shopping mall in the city at Canton Road, will suffer if there is any cut in the number of individual travelers from the mainland. Henderson Land, meanwhile, is seeking green light on a project that has a good plot ratio. The company has offered to donate a site in Shek Kip Mei to the government in exchange for getting approval on the project.

The two richer property tycoons – Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong (Holdings) and the Kwok brothers of Sun Hung Kai Properties – have also been against the Occupy Central movement but chose not to be as vocal as the Lees and Woos. But, then they have other preoccupations — one has been busy cashing out from Hong Kong, while the other group has been busy fighting a court case.

Now, who will be the next to speak up? Although the annual meetings season of local blue-chip firms has almost come to an end, we are likely to see more tycoons make their views public on political matters.

Die-hard pro-government tycoons Ronnie Chan Chi-chung of Hang Lung Properties and Henry Cheng Kar-shuen of New World Development would probably take the mike soon, but we can also not rule out Great Eagle chairman Lo Ka-shui, whose flagship recently won a land tender for HK$2.4 billion.

With the tycoons’ talk-show, and other news such as the caging of radical legislator Leung Kwok-hung – formerly known as ‘Long Hair’, but now ‘Short Hair’ due to prison rules – Hong Kong people surely have a lot of things to discuss in the coming days. On July 1, when the Central is set to be “occupied”, will the attention be elsewhere?  

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EJ Insight writer

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