June 23, 2015 / 9:54 AM / in 2 years

Asia's richest man "disappointed" by Hong Kong democracy veto, but business as usual

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, said on Tuesday he was “very disappointed” by Hong Kong’s failure to pass a China-backed electoral blueprint that would have granted a one-man one-vote in the city but only for candidates pre-screened by Beijing.

Li Ka-shing in Hong Kong February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

However he also said he wouldn’t be withdrawing any investment from the free-wheeling business hub.

Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday vetoed the electoral reform package criticized by opposition pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as undemocratic, easing the prospect of fresh protests in the financial hub after last year’s massive “Occupy Central” pro-democracy civil disobedience campaign.

“I‘m very disappointed. This is all I can say,” Li, chairman of developer Cheung Kong Property Holdings and ports-to-telecoms conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings, told reporters after an annual shareholder meeting.

Li - one of Hong Kong’s most influential men whose opinions on business and politics are closely followed -- said, however, that he wouldn’t withdraw investment and would continue to buy land in the city this year.

In recent weeks, other business leaders, including tycoon Lee Shau-kee, the head of Henderson Land, said a failure to back the package would hurt Hong Kong at a vulnerable time given its reliance on a slowing Chinese economy.

Li has come under fire from democracy activists and blue collar workers in recent years for his control of many sectors of the Hong Kong economy amid one of Asia’s most gaping wealth gaps.

The electoral package was rejected in a landslide vote by the city’s pro-democracy lawmakers who rejected it as a “fake” democratic model for how the Chinese-controlled territory chooses its next leader in 2017.

But it was a setback for Beijing’s Communist leaders, who said they remained committed to universal suffrage for Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, but signaled no further democratic concessions.

Li’s comments came hours before Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying reiterated that he would continue to push for a series of economic and social initiatives after the no-vote, and called for support from the city’s legislature.

Leung told reporters he hopes to launch the Hong Kong-Shenzhen stock market link by November, and to increase private housing supply to a 10-year high next year to tackle one of the world’s most expensive property markets, which has surged more than 170 percent since 2008.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that gives it a separate legal system and greater freedoms than the party-ruled mainland - and the promise of eventual universal suffrage.

Reporting by Yimou Lee, Alison Lui and Twinnie Siu; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick Macfie

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