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HK is like a spoilt child: Li Ka Shing
Publication Date : 07-03-2014
Asia's richest man, Li Ka Shing, has compared the two cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, saying Singapore - spurred by its lack of resources - has relentlessly sought to reinvent and upgrade itself.
By contrast, Hong Kong is "like a spoilt child", with populism on the rise. It has to raise its game and sharpen its competitive edge, said the 85-year-old property tycoon.
In an interview with mainland Chinese news website Caixin published yesterday, Li outlined what he thinks are the differences between the two cities - traditionally pitted as rivals - when responding to a question on how Hong Kong should encourage innovation.
In Singapore, public opinion does not turn against foreign companies that are flourishing in the domestic economy, he said. When the country suffers from a manpower shortage, it imports labour. And unlike Hong Kong, it does not have the support of China, and has to spend on its defence.
"Yet, Singapore is very successful in innovation," he said. He noted that Hong Kong's gross domestic product during the 1997 handover was similar to that of Singapore's. Now, Singapore's GDP is one-third higher than Hong Kong's, he said. "Hong Kong must boost its competitiveness," he said.
Asked by Caixin founder Hu Shuli why he felt there has been a rise of populism in the city, Li acknowledged that Hong Kong's widening income inequality - "a global phenomenon" - is troubling.
But he warned that the government should not take an "emotional" approach towards resolving these grievances.
"I was poor before, I understand what it is like to worry about having to make ends meet every day," said the founder of the Hutchison Whampoa Limited and Cheung Kong Holdings conglomerates, whose wealth today has been estimated at US$29 billion by Bloomberg.
In a clear swipe at those who blame tycoons - including himself - for their perceived stranglehold on Hong Kong's economy, Li said it is regrettable that some politicians choose to fan the resentment against the wealthy in an attempt to "win votes". What must be done instead is to embark on reforms in the education system, so as to speed up social mobility, he said.
Hong Kong also needs to grow the economic pie by investing in new technologies and innovating, said the magnate, whose business interests include a stake in Facebook and music streaming service Spotify.
Revered by many as "Superman" for his business acumen, Li has in recent years found himself the high-profile target of those unhappy about the widening rich-poor gap and slowing mobility.
Last year, dock workers camped out at his Cheung Kong Centre in a wage dispute. Led by union leaders and labour parties, they hoisted posters of Li as a "blood-sucking vampire" who profited from their labour.
Asked about this, Li took a sip of his tea and said: "Though they made me out to be a monster, I still laugh when I see the photographs."