ASIA'S richest man Li Ka Shing is fighting back against criticism that he is pulling his assets out of Hong Kong and mainland China, saying that such talk amounts to "a big joke".
In a rare, wide-ranging interview that analysts surmise is aimed at protecting his legacy, the 85-year-old defended his decisions to sell key assets as "normal" in the course of business, while emphasising that he is a patriot whose dream is for China to be always strong and prosperous.
"I dislike being maligned," he told journalists from the Guangzhou-based Nanfang media group in an interview published yesterday.
"This rumour about me pulling my assets out has been circulating for a few months. Today, I'm striking back."
This has been an eventful year for the high-profile Hong Kong tycoon, whose empire spans property to telecommunications, and whose fortune is valued at US$29 billion (S$36 billion) according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
In April, port workers at a subsidiary company went on a month-long strike for higher wages and better working conditions.
A widening income gap in the city also meant that the business titan became the resented symbol of the super- rich for many.
Things did not improve when news emerged that his conglomerate was looking to sell its ParknShop supermarket chain, leading to jitters that he no longer found Hong Kong an attractive proposition. These spread to mainland China when he sold three commercial properties in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing. Mr Ronald Wan, chief China adviser of Asian Capital Holdings, said: "For the past six months, his actions have been scrutinised closely by the mainland media including government media like Xinhua, and some questioned if he was sending out signals that he was losing confidence in the new governments in China and Hong Kong.