The United States has accused China of “bullying” the UK and its companies, citing reports that HSBC has blocked Hong Kong-based executives from using their bank accounts.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “The United States is dismayed to learn the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] 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.”
His comments referenced reports that Hong Kong-based executives at Next Media were left unable to access their bank accounts and credit cards. Next Media has published pro-democracy newspapers.
HSBC drew the ire of the US in June, after its chief executive Peter Wong backed the security law imposed on Hong Kong by China.
HSBC at centre of geopolitical storm
The Asia-focused UK bank has found itself caught in a geopolitical storm. It wants to maintain its good access to China, the world’s second-biggest economy.
HSBC declined to comment on Pompeo’s intervention.
Pompeo’s comments marked an escalation in tensions between the US and China. Just two days ago, the two sides had said they “see progress” in trade talks.
A statement released by Pompeo’s office said: “Free nations must ensure that corporate interests are not suborned by the CCP to aid its political repression.
“We stand ready to help the British government and its companies resist CCP bullying and stand for freedom.”
Washington has reacted strongly against China’s move to impose a new security law on the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. The sweeping law was imposed on 30 June and outlaws ill-defined crimes such as sedition and subversion.
The UK has also offered up to 3m Hong Kong citizens the chance to apply for citizenship. Hong Kong is a former UK territory.