The widening wealth gap is keeping Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing up at night and Asia’s richest man warns it could become “the new normal” if left unaddressed.
The government must introduce fresh impetus to enable dynamic and flexible redistribution policies, Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. (1) Chairman Li said when addressing students at China’s Shantou University, according to a speech titled "Sleepless in Hong Kong" posted on the website of the Li Ka Shing Foundation on June 27. The growing scarcity of resources and waning trust are also reasons he’s being deprived of sleep, he said.
“The howl of rage from polarization and the crippling cost of welfare dependence is a toxic cocktail commingled to stall growth and foster discontent,” said Li, who turns 86 next month. “Trust enables us to live in harmony, without which more and more people will lose faith in this system, breeding skepticism towards what is fair and just, doubting everything and believing all has turned sour and rancid.”
Li’s comments come as the debate over how to elect Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017 divides the city, with more than 750,000 people voting in an unofficial democracy poll. Lawyers in the territory on June 27 marched through the central business district in silence, in protest against a Chinese policy paper they said jeopardizes judicial independence, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.
Li ranks 17th among the world’s richest individuals with a net worth of $32.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. The businessman, who also controls Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13), wakes up at around 5 a.m. to listen to the news on the radio and spends 90 minutes every day playing golf and swimming.
Shantou University, founded in 1981 by Li, is the only privately funded public university in China, according to its website. The Li Ka Shing Foundation has donated HK$6 billion ($774 million) to the university, the website says.
Technology and innovation can increase options as resources are becoming scarce, Li said in the speech. Government needs to lead change and inject a “strong dose of liberating elixir” into the education system, he said.
The failure to invest in education “is tantamount to a crime against the future,” Li said.
Organizers of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, who oppose China’s plans to vet candidates for elections in Hong Kong, say they intend to hold a sit-in in the city’s financial district if electoral reforms don’t meet demands.
The planned protest has drawn opposition from groups including the world’s four-biggest accounting companies, foreign commerce chambers and brokers, who say it may lead to an exodus of businesses from the city and hurt the economy.
The Hong Kong Association of Banks is concerned the planned protests could get out of control and have a negative impact on the city’s status as a global financial center, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported yesterday, citing association chairman He Guangbei.
“What is most unsettling for me is that trust, the bedrock of an enlightened society, is crumbling before our eyes,” Li said. “Without a modicum of trust, society will downward spiral into a painful vicious cycle.”
Occupy Central activists have called on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments to heed public opinion expressed through its polls, while urging residents to join an annual protest march on July 1, the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule. The activists want public nomination of election candidates.
“Today when you rang the bell of truth, what promise did you make to the future? When dawn breaks, is today the tomorrow you worried about yesterday?” Li said. “Your dedication and undertaking to be the custodian of the future is the best antidote for everyone’s insomnia.”