Li Ka-Shing laments HK wealth gap

Hong Kong: 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 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 were also reasons he was being deprived of sleep, he said.

“The howl of rage from polarisation 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 scepticism 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 Friday marched through the central business district in silence, in protest against a Chinese policy paper that they said jeopardied judicial independence, the South China Morning Post reported on Saturday.

Li ranks 17th among the world’s richest individuals with a net worth of US$32.5bil, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. The businessman, who also controls Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, wakes up at around 5am 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$6bil (US$774mil) to the university, the website says.

Technology and innovation could increase options as resources were becoming scarce, Li said in the speech.

Government needed 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.

“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.” — Bloomberg

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