RM597b at stake for HK tycoons backing security law

The passing of the decision on the national security law is a clear warning to the billionaires to publicly support it

HONG KONG • After 12 months of political turmoil, a pandemic and the worst recession on record, Hong Kong’s richest people have emerged with their fortunes intact.

Now, the billionaire class of real estate developers, taipans and conglomerate founders who dominate Hong Kong’s economy are lining up to support a controversial national security law, siding with the Chinese government despite widespread opposition from local residents and Western leaders.

The nine-richest people with companies listed in the city have endorsed the bill, either personally — as was the case with Li Kashing and Michael Kadoorie — or through one of their businesses or relatives. Their fortunes are worth a combined US$140 billion (RM597 billion).

“Business leaders in Hong Kong have no choice if they do not relocate themselves and their businesses,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.

“The passing of the decision on the national security law is a clear warning to them, and if they do not publicly support it, they know they risk being seen as opposing it.”

A developer association representing firms including Lee Shau Kee’s Henderson Land Development Co Ltd and the Kwok family’s Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd said it backs the law because it will guarantee stability and prosperity. The families behind Swire Pacific Ltd, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd and Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd have issued similar endorsements.

Critics have argued that Bei- jing’s plan to impose the security bill by side-stepping Hong Kong’s legislature will mark the end of the “one country, two systems” principle that has underpinned the city’s status as a global financial hub.

One of the law’s staunchest opponents is media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who has called out his fellow moguls for kowtowing to Beijing. Lai was arrested along with others earlier this year as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy figures who supported demonstrations that began last June.

While those protests kicked off one of the most turbulent 12 months in Hong Kong’s history, the collective fortunes of the city’s richest haven’t suffered. Since the unrest started, their net worth has actually climbed 0.7%, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That compares to a slide of about 8% in the benchmark Hang Seng Index over the same period. The gauge closed little changed yesterday. — Bloomberg