Hong Kong Billionaire Denies Withdrawal From Mainland University
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2017-11-29 08:57:50

Contrary to earlier accounts, Hong Kong’s richest resident, Sir Li Ka-shing, has not pulled funding from a university he co-founded on the mainland, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Tuesday.

A number of platforms including business news outlet Caixin and online media outlet iFeng posted earlier on Tuesday that Li had stopped providing funding to Shantou University after a dispute with the administration over how the funding was distributed. Reports had claimed that though Li’s foundation usually finances colleges directly, the university’s administration had insisted on managing funds centrally — which some netizens speculated meant corruption.

But an official from the university’s administrative office, He Wenbiao, told The Paper on Tuesday that nothing had changed. “It’s fake news,” He said. Some staff from Li’s foundation had been transferred, He said, but no funding had been withdrawn.

In a reply to The Paper on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the foundation also denied the news, and explained that it had reorganized its offices to comply with the latest regulations on charities founded outside the Chinese mainland.

“It’s known to all that Mr. Li’s promise to Shantou University extends beyond his life,” the manager wrote. The business magnate’s charity, the Li Ka Shing Foundation, has committed a total of 6 billion Hong Kong dollars ($769 million) to the university.

Li, now 89, is listed by Forbes as the richest person in Hong Kong, with a net worth of $30.3 billion. In 1981, the Li Ka Shing Foundation co-founded the university in Shantou, Guangdong province, in partnership with the provincial government and the Ministry of Education. Shantou University remains the only public university on the Chinese mainland founded with financial backing from a private foundation.

Though Shantou University is a unique case, it is not rare for public schools in China to receive donations from individuals and organizations. Many Chinese college students will be familiar with the sight of a Run Run Shaw building on campus, as Hong Kong entertainment mogul Siu Yat-fu — also known as Sir Run Run Shaw — reportedly funded 6,013 education programs on the Chinese mainland before his death in 2014. The Li Ka Shing Foundation also supports other health and education facilities across China besides Shantou University.

But as philanthropy grows in China, so have regulations on charitable giving. The nation implemented a new charity law in September 2016, requiring all organizations that solicit donations to be registered with the civil affairs authority, as well as a law governing foreign NGOs in January 2017. Existing laws on donations for public welfare also stipulated that donated funds had to be used in accordance with donors’ intentions.

In 2011, China’s largest charity, the Red Cross Society of China, received harsh public criticism when a woman who identified herself as the manager of the organization’s subsidiary flaunted her luxurious lifestyle on social media. Though it turned out that the woman was not an employee of the charity at all, the incident triggered heightened public scrutiny of the organization’s transparency and honesty, and resulted in decreased donations for several years.

In a statement posted Tuesday to its account on microblog platform Weibo, Shantou University said it reserves the right to take legal action against those who spread false information about the institution online. Some netizens who hold Li in high esteem for his philanthropy have worried that the news would discourage the philanthropist, while others have continued to harbor doubts about how the university managed the donated funds.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Billionaire Li Ka-shing talks with students during a graduation ceremony at Shantou University in Shantou, Guangdong province, June 27, 2017. Zhong Zhi/VCG)