Richard Li Tzar-kai, the Hong Kong telecoms tycoon and younger son of Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man, backed the “One Country, Two Systems” principle in full-page adverts in seven newspapers on Thursday.
First among local industry captains to speak after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Wednesday she would formally withdraw the controversial extradition bill and set up a platform to examine the causes behind the unprecedented and sometimes violent protests the city has faced for 13 weeks now, he also called for an end to the protests and the restoration of social order.
“Citizens should stop violence, rebuild a harmonious society and restore social order with the rule of law,” Li, 52, said in the adverts, which appeared in Oriental Daily News, Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao, Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po and Hong Kong Economic Times, as well as the Hong Kong Economic Journal, which is owned by a trust he owns.
He said the “One Country, Two Systems” principle was the foundation of a prosperous and stable Hong Kong, and backed the recommendations of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, Beijing’s top office overseeing Hong Kong policy. The HKMAO on Tuesday called for all branches of the government, including the judiciary, to help stop violence and restore order.
Investment firm Pacific Century Group, which Li owns and chairs, as well as insurer FWD, a company he owns, took out similar adverts in the same newspapers on August 16, condemning violence at protests, but Li’s name was not mentioned. Thursday’s adverts, however, bore the billionaire’s name.
Li owns a range of businesses, from telecommunications, media, insurance and investment funds to a forthcoming virtual bank, and is Hong Kong’s 21st richest man, with a net worth of US$4.5 billion as of this year.
He has significant exposure in the city, through telecoms company PCCW, which owns HKT, Hong Kong’s largest mobile services provider. PCCW and HKT, in turn, have formed a joint venture with Standard Chartered Bank and the Hong Kong unit of mainland Chinese travel services provider Ctrip.com International to launch SC Digital Solutions, a virtual bank expected to start operations this year.
And the protests have not kept him from expanding his business interests further in the city. FWD acquired MetLife Hong Kong’s business on June 28, not too long after an estimated two million people took part in a peaceful protest against the soon-to-be withdrawn extradition bill on June 16. The deal price was not disclosed, but a Bloomberg report said it would be less than US$400 million.
Other tycoons, including Li’s father, Li Ka-shing; Dhanin Chearavanont, Thailand’s richest man and senior chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group, Thailand’s largest private company; Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, founder of Hong Kong infrastructure and property company Hopewell Holdings; as well as Michael Kadoorie, the chairman of Hong Kong utility CLP, have also taken out adverts in newspapers calling for an end to the protests.
The Big Four accounting firms, five of Hong Kong’s largest banks, including the three note-issuing lenders HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong), conglomerate Jardine Matheson, as well as major property developers have also taken out similar newspaper adverts over the past month.
Hong Kong’s economy, which is heading for a technical recession in the third quarter having been squeezed by a year-long trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, has been put under further pressure by 13 weeks of street rallies and protests that have deterred visitors and investment in the city.
Market turnover has declined 30 per cent year on year during the past three months, while three companies have cancelled listings worth a combined US$11.05 billion since June.
Weak market sentiment has also hurt 2.9 million workers' pensions, with the city’s Mandatory Provident Fund’s stock funds returning about 7 per cent lower last month, according to US financial services firm Lipper.
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