The US Secretary of State has once again singled out HSBC (HSBA.L) for criticism over its actions in Hong Kong, accusing the bank of giving into “bullying” by China.
In a statement overnight, Mike Pompeo said he was “dismayed” by reports that HSBC has been blocking the credit cards and accounts of executive at Next Media (0282.HK), the pro-democracy publishing group based in Hong Kong.
Next Media’s founder Jimmy Lai was arrested earlier this month, part of a widespread crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong by Beijing. Lai’s arrest was the most high profile action taken under China’s widely condemned new Hong Kong security law and sent shockwaves around the world.
Pompeo said reports that HSBC was aiding in this effort suggested the bank was “maintaining accounts for individuals who have been sanctioned for denying freedom for Hong Kongers, while shutting accounts for those seeking freedom.”
He said HSBC was giving in to “coercive bullying tactics” by China.
“Free nations must ensure that corporate interests are not suborned by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to aid its political repression,” Pompeo said. “We stand ready to help the British government and its companies resist CCP bullying and stand for freedom.”
It marks the second time this year Pompeo has publicly called out HSBC over its relationship with China. In June, the US Secretary of State attacked the “fealty” of HSBC for supporting China’s widely condemned national security law. Peter Wong, the head of HSBC’s Asian business, signed a petition supporting the law, which forcibly bought Hong Kong under Beijing’s authority.
HSBC has been approached for comment.
Shares in the bank fell 2% on Thursday, the worst performance of any major listed UK bank.
HSBC is headquartered in London but makes much of its profit in Asia. Shares are dual listed in Hong Kong and London. Chief executive Noel Quinn’s long term strategy is to focus more on China and the wider Asian region.
In its half-year report, published this week, HSBC flagged rising geopolitical risk as a key challenge to its business.
“US-China tensions continued to escalate including in relation to Hong Kong,” the bank wrote. “The financial impact to the Group of geopolitical risks in Asia is heightened due to the importance and profitability of the region, and Hong Kong in particular.”
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