On Tuesday, the chief of the banking giant HSBC insisted that he was legally obligated to close the accounts of a popular campaigner for democracy in Hong Kong, as he faced a hostile grilling by UK legislators.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell accused Chief Executive Noel Quinn of “double-standards, hypocrisy and appeasement” in joining China’s sweeping security crackdown in the former British colony.
“I have to comply with the law,” Quinn told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee when asked about the accounts of Ted Hui, insisting he could not make a “moral or political judgement on these matters”.
Hui, a former lawmaker who fled Hong Kong, accuses HSBC of breaching his rights in complying with a police request to close accounts with him and his family members.
He was caught up in the crackdown imposed in Hong Kong under a Chinese-mandated National Security Law that, among other firms, controversially obtained funding from HSBC.
In defense of the legislation and for perceived hypocrisy in promoting ethical principles elsewhere in the world, members of the British parliamentary committee rallied to savage HSBC.
One compared the bank to Barclays, which in the 1980s endured a market boycott for funding South Africa’s apartheid regime.
But Quinn said he had to behave in the best interests of the London-based bank and Hong Kong’s economy, which receives much of its profits from Asia.
“We’ve been in Hong Kong 155 years. Today is a particularly challenging time,” he said.
“As challenging as the geopolitics are… I want to help Hong Kong to continue to develop. Am I willing to walk away from Hong Kong? The answer is no.”
The CEO also denied that HSBC has any business presence in the Xinjiang region, where China is accused of waging “genocide” against the Uighur ethnic community by the outgoing US administration and rights groups.
And he said that the banking group has no plans to split its activities in Greater China from those in the rest of the world in order to overcome some of the political problems it faces when it comes to straddling conflicting political demands.
“I do not see a point where we have to split the institution. I do not think that would be to the benefit of Hong Kong and I do not think that would be to the benefit of the UK,” Quinn said.
The parliamentary grilling coincided with the anniversary of the British flag being planted on Hong Kong Island in 1841 by Royal Navy officers.
“On the 180th anniversary of modern Hong Kong, I want to send all of you who struggle to secure freedom and democracy a message of support not just from myself, but from the whole of the free world,” former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith tweeted.
The UK government has stopped, unlike many MPs and the former US administration, short of fiery denunciations of Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong, which had allegedly returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with its freedoms preserved for 50 years.
But Britain is opening a new visa scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders on Sunday, a legacy of its rule over Hong Kong that will allow more territorial residents and their dependents to come to the UK.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN