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Beijing Versus the Billionaire

China’s government and Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, the much-admired Li Ka-shing, have been waging an acidic spat – one that increasingly looks like a bitter divorce being played out in tabloid newspapers. The conflict comes down to politics. Li is showing too much independence, and China’s communist rulers do not like it one bit.

BANGKOK – China’s government and Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, the much-admired Li Ka-shing, have been waging an acidic spat – one that increasingly looks like a bitter divorce being played out in tabloid newspapers. Indeed, Chinese media have lately been directing a relentless stream of vitriol at Li. His “crime”? Buying low in Europe and selling high in China – that is, acting like an investor.

The trigger for this wave of scorn was Li’s sell-off of some of his prime Shanghai properties, after relocating his corporate registry from Hong Kong to the Cayman Islands. This is a completely mundane and rational business decision, aimed at minimizing tax obligations. Indeed, some 70% of all Hong Kong-listed companies have a Caribbean registry, and even a number of major mainland companies, including the Internet giant Alibaba, are registered in offshore tax havens.

But, in the Chinese media’s puerile narrative, the move exposes Li as “ungrateful” and “unpatriotic.” He is “abandoning” China – which, it is claimed, enabled him to rise from extreme poverty to become one of the world’s wealthiest men – when the country needs him most.

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