Mocked as the king of cockroaches, Li says he's used to punches

Top News | REUTERS 29 Nov 2019

Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's most prominent tycoon, says he is getting used to "the unfounded verbal and text punches" thrown at him in recent years.

Li has faced withering attacks from the mainland and pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong, including during the protests that have engulfed the city since June.

After the 91-year-old billionaire in September called on both the authorities and protesters to exercise restraint, he was accused of "harboring criminality" by the Communist Party's central legal affairs commission.

A pro-Beijing trade union leader in Hong Kong posted a Facebook item mocking him as the "king of cockroaches."

Li said: "In the world of social media, some people are hard at work in sowing toxic doubts and disinformation to undermine trust. It is hard not to be drawn into controversies [in] these times."

While the city's rich were courted by China's leaders for many years, Xi has made it clear he expects them to play their part in helping the central government maintain stability in the city.

President Xi Jinping delivered that message to tycoons during a 2017 meeting in Hong Kong. Asked what he thought Xi expected from the city's wealthiest people, Li said: "I founded a philanthropic foundation in 1980 and have given my utmost support to education, medical research and services. At the time, I have already committed a third of my personal wealth. Around 80 percent of my foundation's projects are in the Greater China area. The total contributions have already exceeded HK$26 billion."

Li was asked for his thoughts about the view that mainland control of Hong Kong is growing.

"There are many differing opinions on one country, two systems but the road we are on is fine," a spokesperson for Li said. "It requires a tangible commitment from both sides, calls for institutional innovation and not a merger."

In 2015, Li faced criticism from the mainland after he folded his Hong Kong-registered Hutchison Whampoa and another company into firms incorporated in the Cayman Islands. The state-run People's Daily said Li was happy to "enjoy the benefits when things are good" but couldn't be counted on in tough times.

Asked about that criticism, Li said: "When you are my age, you will know how to cut through the noise. I don't know if it is a concerted effort, but I am getting used to all the unfounded verbal and text punches."

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