The British bank froze the accounts of people involved in Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy as leading activists are convicted of their roles in mass protests

The Government has ignored calls to condemn HSBC for seemingly colluding with China in the repression of Hong Kong.

A heated discussion on the actions of the London-based bank came days after three of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists were given jail sentences for taking part in protests last year.

Democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were all convicted of unauthorised assembly on 2 December. The longest sentence was handed to the internationally-renowned activist Wong, who has been jailed for 13 months. The others have been given 10 and seven months in prison respectively.

These sentences have caused outrage among pro-democracy campaigners in the city, but were actually relatively tame compared to the severe punishments the activists could have received had their crimes occurred after Beijing passed the National Security Law earlier this year.

The law, imposing China’s security apparatus on the city, is widely regarded as the death of Hong Kong’s ‘one country two systems’ administration, which has been in place since the British handover to China in 1997 and allows the former British colony a high degree of autonomy until 2047.

Speaking on the issue in Parliament this week, Scottish National Party MP Alyn Smith said: “This is not just a breach of human rights somewhere in the world of which we know nothing. These are direct breaches of the Sino-British agreement and direct infringements of personal rights which the UK is guarantor.”

Smith also accused HSBC of “colluding” with Beijing in enforcing the National Security Law as the bank accounts of pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui and his family were frozen after he fled to the UK. Hui has called it “political retaliation through economic oppression”.

Days after Hui spoke out about his accounts, the Good Neighbour North District Church in Hong Kong wrote on Facebook that its account with HSBC had also been frozen, along with accounts belonging to its pastor Roy Chan and his wife. The accounts were frozen “without any prior notification nor justification”, according to the 8 December post. The church echoed Hui’s comments, calling it “an act of political retaliation” after it provided humanitarian aid to protestors in 2019.

In June, HSBC’s top executive in Asia also signed a petition in support of the National Security Law.

“This is not a bank that has started in China, based in China, [with] nothing to do with the UK,” said Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith. “This is a bank that benefits from its location here in London, is highly thought of amongst the trading community and behaves in this disreputable and appalling way, that freezes accounts on an individual fleeing for justice. Surely that is an outrage the Government can now say should stop?”

HSBC has claimed that the situation has been “misrepresented”. In an email to Reuters, a spokesman said that the bank must “abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in which we operate”. It said it could not comment on specific cases.

The SNP’s Alyn Smith also called on the Government to carry out an audit of UK companies to “check their involvement in slave labour” because “there is no question there are UK companies that are profiting directly from gross human rights infringements”.

Last month, Byline Times revealed that the Government has purchased face masks manufactured by a Chinese company that uses state-imposed Uyghur Muslim labour in its factories. At least 100,000 of these masks were supplied by a Daily Mail charity campaign to procure equipment for NHS workers.

But Foreign Office Minister Nigel Adams said that HSBC and other businesses “will make their own judgement calls”, after which people can decide what they think.

“We have made a historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong to protect their autonomy and freedom and so has China – and we will hold China to those responsibilities,” he added. Two further calls for Adams to condemn HSBC were dismissed with the same response.

“We are allowing the Chinese Government endlessly to ratchet up the oppression against the people of Hong Kong,” Labour MP Chris Bryant said. “And now we’ve even got British-based banks cooperating. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t want the minister to speculate about using Magnitsky sanctions, I want him to use them. Secondly, surely to God the least we could do as a British Government is bring in the chairman and chief executive of HSBC and say you must not cooperate with oppression in China?”

Adams said that sanctions would only be imposed on Chinese officials “on the basis of evidence” and that the Government is “carefully considering” designations.


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