HSBC accused of abetting China’s attack on democracy: Protesters see Hong Kong accounts frozen
HSBC has been accused of ‘aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world’ over its treatment of customers in Hong Kong.
Appearing before MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee, bosses were quizzed about why bank accounts of pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony were frozen.
The grilling followed months of criticism of HSBC after its top executive in Asia signed a petition backing a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China.
Troubles: HSBC boss Noel Quinn says he has personally witnessed the turmoil that has rocked Hong Kong
The law has led to arrests and the imprisonment of pro-democracy protesters, fuelling fears over Beijing’s influence in the territory.
Several activists in Hong Kong, including legislator Ted Hui, who fled to Britain last month, have had their bank accounts frozen by HSBC.
Taking aim at chief executive Noel Quinn and chief compliance officer Colin Bell at yesterday’s hearing, Conservative MP Bob Seely said: ‘You’re making ethical judgements in Hong Kong, you’re just making the wrong ethical judgements.’
Labour MP Chris Bryant added: ‘You’re effectively aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world.’
Founded in Hong Kong but with headquarters in Britain, HSBC has historically tried to remain politically neutral.
But Western governments have accused it of ‘kowtowing’ to China’s Communist regime.
Quinn said that he could not comment on individual cases, but that if the Hong Kong police ordered a bank account to be closed, HSBC must comply.
He told MPs: ‘I’m not in the position as a banker to be able to judge the motives or the validity of that legal instruction from a law enforcement authority.
‘I can’t do that in the UK, and I can’t do it in any other market. I cannot cherry-pick which law to follow or which legal instruction to follow from a police authority.’
HSBC faces questions over whether it has become too close to Beijing and can remain a British-based bank spanning East and West.
Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested last year that it may be ‘more closely aligned to the Chinese government than Her Majesty’s’.
And then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – chief foreign affairs adviser to Donald Trump –accused it of a ‘show of fealty’ in the face of ‘bullying’ by Beijing.
Quinn said he was committed to doing the best for Hong Kong. He told MPs: ‘We are troubled about the challenges Hong Kong has faced over the past two to three years. I’ve witnessed them myself, having lived there.
‘We have, as an institution, been part of its evolution and I am nowhere near the point at which the challenges it faces would give me any hint or consideration of walking away from Hong Kong.’
Following the hearing, Seely said: ‘No one is demanding HSBC walk away. We understand complexity, and we know the difficulties they face, but to avoid any conversation about values or ethical dilemmas was very poor.
‘HSBC is happy to virtue signal in the West, yet desperate to avoid ethical debate in Hong Kong.
‘None of Mr Quinn’s answers have given me any confidence that HSBC has adequately engaged with this issue.’