Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing hits back at ‘unwarranted’ accusations he condones crime and caused city’s housing crisis

Kimmy Chung

Tycoon Li Ka-shing has hit back at an “unwarranted” attack from Beijing’s political and legal affairs commission over his comments on Hong Kong’s ongoing anti-government protests.

An article published on Thursday in an official WeChat account of the party department accused the 91-year-old billionaire of condoning crime and causing the city’s housing crisis.

Li had urged those in power to “provide a way out” for the young demonstrators, describing them as the “masters of our future”. He said the protesters should consider the city’s overall interests too.

He also said that on political issues, justice might have to be tempered with mercy.

The commentary seized on his phrase “provide a way out”, and said showing leniency towards those who had broken the law was “nothing more than condoning crime”.

“This is not about thinking about Hong Kong, but watching Hong Kong slip into the abyss,” it said.

It also suggested that Li, as a major developer in Hong Kong, should be the one providing “a way out” for Hongkongers, as the city’s housing woes were believed to be a major deep-rooted cause of increasingly violent protests now in their fourth month.

Advertisements placed by CK Hutchison Holdings founder Li Ka-shing call for a halt to the unrest in the name of love. Photo: Bloomberg

The tycoon responded in a statement issued through his Li Ka Shing Foundation, saying it was regrettable that his remarks had been misinterpreted, adding that he had been “accustomed to unwarranted accusations for many years”.

“But the most important thing is, tolerance does not mean connivance and disregarding any legal procedures,” it said.

Li emphasised that he was opposed to any violence and hoped all parties would not “incite conflict”, but make room instead to cool down and initiate dialogue in Hong Kong.

The commentary also focused on Li’s role as a major developer in a city gripped by severe housing shortages and some of the highest property prices in the world.

It quoted angry online comments, including one asking: “Why doesn’t Li’s family give people a way out when Hong Kong citizens fail to pay the mortgage on your homes?”

It quoted another who said: “Why doesn’t Li’s family offer discounts to the ‘masters of our future’ for their housing? That would be more effective to stabilise Hong Kong’s situation!”

The commentary argued that skyrocketing housing prices were “undoubtedly” one of the key causes of the ongoing unrest.

“Many young people in Hong Kong have vented their dissatisfaction and even anger to the government over the expensive home prices and high rents,” it said. “But they have made a mistake on the target. Who is benefiting from the skyrocketing home prices? The answer is not difficult to guess.”

The article came a day after the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong placed a front-page advertisement in a local newspaper urging the city’s embattled government to invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back idle rural land held by developers and use it to ease the housing shortage.

The commentary concluded by asking whether Li had read the advert, saying: “Will developers like Li, who make money by hoarding land, provide ‘a way out’ for Hong Kong citizens? And for Hong Kong’s future?”

Separately, Harbour Grand Hotel, owned by Li's family, issued a statement on Friday dismissing rumours that its restaurant was reserved for protesters.

A spokesman said its popular restaurant had a current promotion and the dinner buffet was fully booked, but there was no screening of customers.

In a recording that has been circulating online, a customer suggested that the restaurant had reserved bookings for protesters as she could not get a table for the rest of the month.

The hotel spokesman said it was still taking reservations for some morning and lunchtime slots.

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