Do you know what Orange mobile, EDF Energy, a dockworkers strike, and Hong Kong’s largest supermarket chain have in common? They are or were all owned by one of Hong Kong’s richest citizens, Li Ka-Shing. Li Ka-Shing is chairman of several companies and corporations, the largest being Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd. and Hutchison Whampoa. Through an examination of annual reports, internet sites, and news reports, I have developed the following schematic of companies that come under the control of Mr. Li. You can see it is a global portfolio that in some way or another touches the lives of most people on the planet.
Mr. Li is currently in the news because he is considering selling the Park n Shop chain of supermarkets, which dominate the food landscape in the SAR. A recent China Real Time article (here) suggests that this sell off is likely to be due to the fact that Hong Kong is currently in the process of implementing anti-monopoly legislation which would bite into the Park n Shop business and has recently implemented a minimum wage, which would mean Park n Shop employees would need to receive a pay increase (something that also came up as part of the recent strike action at his docks here in HK). Both evidence of the recent shifts in the Hong Kong state of mind away from the neoliberalism that afforded Mr. Li so many of his opportunities (Mr. Li was a strong supporter of the failed Chief Executive bid by Henry Tang).
The current climate is a long way away from what it was the 1980’s in the period leading up to the handover. At that time there were a myriad of opportunities for those with the right connections and enough resources. When it was decided to tear down Kowloon Walled City and relocate the poor who lived there out to Tin Shui Wai (which later became know as the City of Tears because of the suicides), Mr Li was able to strike a deal with the greatest benefits going to him and his stockholders.
Hong Kong lore (see this post from Skyscraper city of a SCMP article) has it that a secret deal was conducted between Mr. Li, through a property development company Mightycity that he owned, and the British, who were at the time governing of Hong Kong. In the agreement, retail services were to be limited to those developed by Mr Li. In other words no competition, including no provision of a public wet market. Although the conditions in the walled city were far from good, the location in Kowloon City at least afforded the residents with opportunities for work and access to public markets. Even today, nearly 25 years later, the residents of Tin Shui Wai, some of the poorest in Hong Kong, continue to struggle to find affordable food. A recent SCMP article revealed that people in Tin Shui Wai pay up to 50% more for meat and other foodstuff than those in other parts of the city.
Hong Kong people are very good at making do and getting by, probably better than anyone else. And like many of their relatives who sought to make a better life by leaving China during the great leap by coming to Hong Kong, the residents of Tin Shui Wai hold an illegal dawn market in order to provide and provision food for the community (see this story in the SCMP about the hawkers). This is hawking is risky business as there are frequently raids by the hawker patrols and the price of a ticket for hawking unlicensed can be devastating. Furthermore, hawking is not easy as the wholesale markets for buying commodities are not near to Tin Shui Wai, in fact this is part of the problem. Not much is near Tin Shui Wai, which is why the poor struggle and remain poor. In building a new town on an abandoned fish pond near the boarder, the government relocated a people from one urban problem to just create another. Of course, Mr. Li and his family did well out of the deal.
- Li Ka-shing said to be seeking buyer for ParknShop (wantchinatimes.com)
- Hong Kong: Tin Shui Wai hit by third case of Japanese encephalitis (crofsblogs.typepad.com)
- Hong Kong: Dengue fever threat overshadows summer (crofsblogs.typepad.com)
- Li’s Hutchison Signals Possible Sale of ParknShop Chain – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Hutchison says conducting strategic review of H.K. supermarket chain (uk.reuters.com)
- Hong Kong reports second Japanese encephalitis case this year (crofsblogs.typepad.com)
- Hutchison May Exit ParknShop as It Seeks Telecom Business Growth – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Hutchison says conducting strategic review of HK supermarket chain (straitstimes.com)
- Li Ka-shing Steadily Shifts Gaze to Europe (blogs.wsj.com)
- Investment Bankers Seek Shoppers for Li Ka-shing’s Sale (blogs.wsj.com)