Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Singaporeans wished they had a business magnate like Li Ka-shing, despite opposing views by the country’s late prime minister.

Leung Chun-ying also made comments on Hong Kong’s housing issue; the “One Belt, One Road” policy; and establishment of a research centre by a Swedish medical university that his son works at.

In an interview with Xinhua Leung said, “People from Singapore [have] often told me that they envy Hong Kong having many successful businessmen, such as Mr. Li Ka-shing. I told them that Hong Kong also has many medium-and-small companies which have achieved success overseas.”

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying speaking to media in Beijing. Photo: GovHK

However, in his 2011 book, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, Singapore’s late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said, “Is Li Ka-shing making a product that is selling worldwide? No, he’s just acquiring real estate, ports, retail stores and telecoms companies.”

The prime minister continued, “What is the most successful company in Hong Kong? (Trading company) Li and Fung. Two bright brothers, but they are in logistics chains for every company. They’re not in manufacturing because they can’t compete.”

In contrast, Singapore has established its own internationally recognised enterprises including Tiger Beer, DBS Bank, Singapore Airlines and Tiger Balm.

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Late Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said Li Ka-shing’s business empire was built on “following trends… rather than foresight or innovation.” Photo: Wikimedia.

Housing and development

In the interview, Leung also commented on housing and development. “I have prioritized the housing problem since I took office,” Leung said. “The amount of private estates to be completed in 2016 will be 70 percent more than the average amount of the past 10 years, a record high in recent 10 years, which could, to some extent, alleviate the increasing demand.”

Leung said that more land is needed to solve the housing problem. He said that “some members of society” have proposed developing country park areas that have lower ecological value.

However, despite the increasing supply, private estate prices still rose by more than 40 percent during Leung’s three years in office, according to price indices published by the Rating and Valuation Department.

Deputy director of Leung’s chief executive electoral campaign, Kaizer Lau Ping-cheung, has previously proposed a plan to develop three percent of Tai Lam Country Park. In Leung’s 2015 Policy Address, he also mentioned plans for the East Lantau Metropolis which constitute artificial islands in the eastern waters of Lantau.

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A housing development in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Photo: Flickr via tallkev.

Swedish Karolinska Institute

Leung said that Swedish Karolinska Institute, one of the most prestigious medical universities in the world, has decided to set up a research center in Hong Kong, the first of its kind outside Sweden.

“Why did Hong Kong attract these world-class scientific institutions?” Leung said, “Because they want very much to cooperate with the Chinese mainland with a platform in Hong Kong where they are more familiar with the legal systems and lifestyle. ”

Leung’s son Leung Chuen-yan has been a postdoctoral fellow at Karolinska Institute since January, according to a report by Next Magazine. Lau Ming-wai, Chairman and CEO of Chinese Estates Holdings, reportedly made a US$50 million (HK$387.65 million) donation to the institute in February, after Leung Chun-ying mentioned his visit to the institute to Lau last year.

The government responded that the donation was made without Leung’s involvement. Lau was appointed as the chairman of the government’s commission on youth in March this year.

Financial Secretary John Tsang
Financial Secretary John Tsang. Photo: GovHK.

“One Belt, One Road”

On China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Leung said Hong Kong’s enterprises could provide their overseas business experiences and contribute to the country’s ambitious program. He added that the government is currently considering setting up a specialised agency in order to coordinate with mainland China’s initiative.

Leung also said Hong Kong’s non-interventionist approach to economic policy was outdated and that the government should “appropriately and constructively” guide and cooperate with the private sector in order to face challenges from Singapore and South Korea.

Leung’s interview with state media came three weeks after Financial Secretary John Tsang spoke to Xinhua on the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Tsang’s interview has spurred speculation over his chances to run in the next chief executive election.

Additional reporting by Arthur Lo and Vicky Wong.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.