HSBC backs China’s anti-democratic legislation in Hong Kong

HSBC is facing widespread criticism after its top executive in Asia publicly declared the firm’s support for the national security law that China has enforced in Hong Kong. Under the new law, any person ‘undermining national unification’ of Hong Kong with China will face up to a lifetime in prison.

HSBC signalled its support for the controversial new national security bill while it was being drafted in June. The company posted a photo on Chinese social media of its Asia Pacific CEO, Peter Wong, signing a petition in support of its implementation. It’s London press office has since confirmed the authenticity of the post.
HSBC is based in the UK, but was founded in Hong Kong, has a large business presence in China and makes its largest turnovers from the two regions. Its name is an abbreviation of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited.

Western government officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and chairman of the UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, have condemned its decision to support the law. Aviva Investors, a shareholder in HSBC, said that it was ‘uneasy’ with the declaration of support.

Suppression of human rights

The new law aims to suppress pro-independence demonstrations that have been taking place in Hong Kong over the last year, and means that taking part in many of them would now be punishable by law.

"Our rights are (being) taken away; our freedom is gone; our rule of law, our judicial independence is gone,” Ted Hui, a politician in Hong Kong told the BBC.

More than 180 people were arrested on the first day under the new law as protests broke out around the territory. The first person arrested was holding a Hong Kong flag of independence.

The protests were initially sparked by China’s plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and have become increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and some protestors attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.

The Hong Kong Police Force has met demonstrations against the national security law with water cannons, pepper spray and pepper balls.

Erosion of Hong Kong’s rights

Hong Kong citizens and civil society experts say that the new law undermines the autonomy of the region. Hong Kong has maintained some political and civil freedoms denied in mainland China since 1997, when it ceased to be a British colony and became a semi-autonomous region under Beijing. Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab say that the recent legislation is a “clear and serious violation” of the treaty between China and the UK, which introduced the ‘One country, two systems’ agreement.

27 countries have written to the UN expressing “deep and growing concerns” over the law, which has clear implications on the human rights of people in Hong Kong, according to the statement.

Human rights violations and HSBC

It is not the first time that HSBC has been criticised for its human rights record. In 2019, campaigners protested the bank for closing the account of the second-largest pro-democracy fundraising platform, Spark Alliance HK, in Hong Kong. The account’s closure proceeded a police freeze of more than $9 million collected to support anti-government protests and the arrest of four people on charges of money-laundering, although HSBC denied a connection between the two events.

In 2018, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reported that HSBC had invested over $3.3 billion in companies involved in nuclear weapon production between January 2014 and October 2017.

In 2017, HSBC was criticised by War on Want for its investments in and financing of companies that were profiting from the sale of arms and equipment used in the oppression of Palestinians. It found that HSBC had provided 15 syndicated loans worth £19.3b in addition to shareholdings worth £831.5m in 15 companies that were profiting from Israeli's militarism.