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Li Ka-Shing Hong Kong group loses Israel deal amid US push

[HONG KONG] The Hong Kong conglomerate founded by billionaire Li Ka-shing lost a bid for a major infrastructure project in Israel, weeks after the US asked its Middle Eastern ally to review potential security threats posed by China-based companies.

An affiliate of CK Hutchison Holdings, the flagship of the tycoon's sprawling business empire, lost out on the contract to build and operate Israel's biggest desalination plant to IDE Technologies, a local company, the Israeli government said. In the past, Hutchison Water International Holdings had operated a desalination plant in the vicinity of the planned facility in partnership with IDE.

Israel's decision to choose a domestic bidder is the latest blow to Mr Li's son and successor, CK Hutchison Chairman Victor Li, two years after his bid to buy a gas pipeline operator in Australia was blocked on national security concerns. Representatives for CK Hutchison in Hong Kong didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, and the US Embassy in Israel had no comment.

Hutchison lost its Israeli bid at a time of rising frictions between the US and Beijing over trade and the deadly coronavirus that originated in China. Israel has found itself caught in this conflict, under pressure from the US to cool its relations with Beijing, rather than expand them as it had hoped. Just two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Israel for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues including China's role in the Israeli economy.

The Trump administration is pushing allies to avoid Chinese businesses perceived as threats to their national security, and according to a report on Tuesday on the Ynet news website, Mr Pompeo specifically raised concerns regarding Hutchison's participation in Israel's desalination plant tender.

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