Tuesday 26 January 2021 4:52 pm

HSBC boss stands by bank's support for Hong Kong's freedom of speech crackdown

HSBC’s chief executive has today stood by statements made by himself and another senior executive in support of Hong Kong’s draconian national security laws that clamp down on freedom of speech.

Noel Quinn told MPs today that laws were needed to “stablise” the region last year and said there was no situation in which he would pull HSBC out of Hong Kong.

Read more: HSBC exec ‘protected’ from alleged sex assault claim through Chinese Communist Party membership

Beijing’s imposition of national security laws last year were criticised by governments around the globe, including the UK’s, for breaching international law.

The legislation made criticism of the Chinese government illegal in Hong Kong, with police also given powers to lock up people for things like making fun of the Chinese national anthem.

The laws also opened up Chinese security agency branches in Hong Kong for the first time and allowed local authorities to effectively ban political opposition.

Quinn, shortly before the laws came into place, called for Beijing to stablise the security situation in Hong Kong after more than a year of local protests against the Chinese government.

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A senior executive from HSBC – which is headquartered in the UK, but does much of its business in Hong Kong – explicitly and publicly supported the draconian new laws at the time.

When questioned by parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee about the bank’s view of Beijing’s crackdown, Quinn said: “We, HSBC, issued a statement at that point in time along with many other companies in Hong Kong [saying]…we believed it was appropriate to stablise the security position in Hong Kong.

“I stand by that statement.”

He also said there would be no circumstance, regardless of the amount of political repression imposed on Hong Kongers, in which he would pull HSBC’s business out of Hong Kong.

“We care deeply about Hong Kong, we are troubled about the challenges Hong Kong has faced over the past two to three years – I have witnessed them personally, having lived there,” he said.

“We’re committed to it.”

Much of the committee meeting was centred around HSBC’s move to freeze the bank accounts of pro-democracy activist Ted Hui and his family members under order of the Hong Kong police.

Hui has claimed the charges against him are politically motivated and untrue.

Quinn said that HSBC was legally obligated to freeze Hui’s bank account and that “we’ve had to apply the law as we’ve had to apply the law”.

Committee member, and Tory MP, Bob Seely hit out at Quinn for not taking a stronger stance on China’s human rights abuses.

Read more: HSBC chiefs to face MPs’ questions over Hong Kong protesters’ frozen accounts

“In many areas of your public life you’re very happy to talk about ethics and to tick that ethical box and yet you simply shut down…when you’re talkin about Hong Kong and basically your bottom line is everything is legal,” Seely said.

“The question is – is it ethical?

“Because in many other things you do you’re very happy to talk about ethics, it’s just that you’re not willing to talk about ethics in any consideration when it comes to Hong Kong.”

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