China bul­lied HSBC over Hong Kong, says Pom­peo

US sec­re­tary of state has ac­cused the bank of aid­ing the sanc­tioned lead­ers of a crack­down in Hong Kong

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By Lucy Bur­ton

HSBC faces a deep­en­ing diplo­matic cri­sis af­ter Mike Pom­peo, the US sec­re­tary of state, ac­cused the bank of sup­port­ing the sanc­tioned lead­ers of a crack­down on dis­sent in Hong Kong.

Mr Pom­peo claimed that Chi­nese of­fi­cials have bul­lied HSBC into lock­ing pro-democ­racy cam­paign­ers out of their ac­counts in the for­mer Bri­tish colony. At the same time, he said it is pro­vid­ing ser­vices to se­nior com­mu­nist fig­ures on a White House black­list.

There is no sug­ges­tion HSBC has bro­ken Amer­i­can rules, which fo­cus on ban­ning fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions in­side the US with 11 lead­ing dig­ni­taries in the Hong Kong and Chi­nese gov­ern­ments.

But the claims are still likely to spark se­ri­ous con­cern at the bank, which was at risk of los­ing its cru­cial US dol­lar li­cence in 2012 af­ter bil­lions of dol­lars were laun­dered through its Mex­ico branch by drug car­tels.

In a tweet, Mr Pom­peo said: “The United States is dis­mayed to learn the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party con­tin­ues to bully our Bri­tish friends and their cor­po­rate lead­ers.

“HSBC main­tains ac­counts for in­di­vid­u­als sanc­tioned for deny­ing Hong Kongers’ free­dom, while shut­ting ac­counts for those seek­ing free­dom.”

China has drawn con­dem­na­tion from politi­cians and hu­man rights ac­tivists around the world af­ter in­tro­duc­ing a law that in ef­fect outlaws po­lit­i­cal dis­sent in Hong Kong. HSBC pub­licly backed the law, fol­low­ing warn­ings from se­nior regime fig­ures that it could oth­er­wise face reprisals.

Mr Pom­peo’s lat­est re­marks were sparked by re­ports that ex­ec­u­tives at pro-democ­racy pub­lisher Next Dig­i­tal were un­able to ac­cess per­sonal HSBC ac­counts or credit cards. Next Dig­i­tal pub­lishes Ap­ple Daily and Next Mag­a­zine, two of Hong Kong’s most pop­u­lar ti­tles. Founder Jimmy Lai – an out­spo­ken critic of Bei­jing – was ar­rested this month un­der the new law along with other ex­ec­u­tives and his two sons.

Mr Pom­peo has pre­vi­ously warned that China’s “brow­beat­ing” of HSBC was a “cau­tion­ary tale”. Ex­pand­ing on his Twit­ter com­ments yes­ter­day, Mr Pom­peo said: “Only a few months ago, HSBC’s Asia-Pa­cific CEO signed a pe­ti­tion sup­port­ing Bei­jing’s de­ci­sion to crush Hong Kong’s au­ton­omy and its peo­ple’s free­doms. Free na­tions must en­sure that cor­po­rate in­ter­ests are not sub­orned by the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party to aid its po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion.”

The bank’s Asia-Pa­cific boss Peter Wong signed a pe­ti­tion back­ing the law in June. It came af­ter pre­vi­ous Hong Kong leader Le­ung Chun-ying warned the bank to bend its knee to the regime or face be­ing locked out of the mar­ket.

Ear­lier this month, HSBC’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Noel Quinn sug­gested it could dis­own pro-democ­racy staff ar­rested in Hong Kong. He added that the lender fol­lows the law in ev­ery coun­try where it op­er­ates and any ac­tion by au­thor­i­ties against its work­ers would have to be as­sessed on a case-by-case ba­sis.

Wash­ing­ton also slapped sanc­tions on 24 Chi­nese firms for build­ing dis­puted out­posts in the South China Sea.

HSBC re­lies on Hong Kong and main­land China for about 80pc of its prof­its, but a ma­jor­ity of its in­vestors are based in the US and UK. A spokesman de­clined to com­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.