US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has criticised HSBC for backing China’s moves to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy, accusing the British bank of a “corporate kowtow” to Beijing.
Pompeo said the US stood ready to help Britain with alternatives after Beijing reportedly threatened to punish HSBC and break commitments to build nuclear power plants in the country unless the British government allowed Chinese tech firm Huawei to participate in building a 5G network.
“The United States stands with our allies and partners against the Chinese Communist Party’s coercive bullying tactics,” Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday, in the latest in a series of swipes at China’s ruling party.
Pompeo referred to HSBC’s Asia-Pacific chief executive, Peter Wong, signing a petition supporting Beijing’s plans to impose new security legislation on Hong Kong. He said the “browbeating” of HSBC by China’s communist leadership “should serve as a cautionary tale”.
“That show of fealty seems to have earned HSBC little respect in Beijing, which continues to use the bank’s business in China as political leverage against London,” said Pompeo.
HSBC declined to respond to Pompeo’s comments.
HSBC and fellow Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered have come under criticism from some investors and UK and US politicians for backing China’s new security law for Hong Kong before details of the legislation are made public.
In a previous statement, HSBC said “We respect and support laws and regulations that will enable Hong Kong to recover and rebuild the economy and, at the same time, maintain the principle of ‘one country two systems’.”
Standard Chartered has said it believed the law can “help maintain the long term economic and social stability of Hong Kong”.
Sino-U.S. ties have deteriorated rapidly since the start of the year over the coronavirus pandemic and Hong Kong. Washington sees Huawei as an extension of the Chinese government and urges European allies to exclude it from mobile networks.
Pompeo said Australia, Denmark, “and other free nations” had faced pressure from Beijing and it showed why countries needed to avoid economic overreliance on China and to guard their critical infrastructure from Chinese influence.
“Free nations deal in true friendship and desire mutual prosperity, not political and corporate kowtows,” he said.
It was reported on Sunday that HSBC had warned Downing Street against a ban on Huawei in 5G telecoms networks, with chairman Mark Tucker said to have made private representations to the prime minister’s advisers.
Britain has designated the Chinese telecoms giant a “high-risk vendor” in January, capping its 5G involvement at 35 per cent and excluding it from the data-heavy element of the network.