HSBC’s top exec backs China’s security law for Hong Kong

Police standing guard in front of a vandalised HSBC bank branch on New Year’s Day in Hong Kong. (AP pic)

LONDON: HSBC’s top executive in Asia has signed a petition backing China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, an online bank post said on Wednesday, breaking years of political neutrality for the UK-based, Asia-focused lender.

Asia-Pacific Chief Executive Peter Wong signed the petition and HSBC itself “respects and supports all laws that stabilise Hong Kong’s social order”, the bank said in the social media post.

HSBC has not weighed in on the political situation in the former British colony in recent months, but has faces increasing calls in Chinese state media to make its position clear.

A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment beyond the contents of the post.

Wong hoped the legislation could bring long-term stability and prosperity to Hong Kong, he told China’s official Xinhua news agency in an interview published on Wednesday.

HSBC was briefly caught up Hong Kong’s earlier anti-government protests, with some of its branches vandalised and the famous bronze lion statues outside its headquarters defaced during a protest march on Jan 1.

Some protesters accused HSBC of being complicit in action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support protesters, accusations the bank denied.

Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying last week criticised HSBC for not supporting Beijing over London in the spat.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms, such as an independent legal system and right to protest, not enjoyed on the mainland.

The city was rocked by months of sometimes violent pro-democracy, anti-China unrest last year by protesters fearing an erosion of those freedoms by Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

China denies the accusation and accuses the West of stirring up trouble.

The bank’s statement came as tensions rise between London and Beijing after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK would not walk away from the people of Hong Kong if China imposed the national security law.

Britain has called the law “authoritarian” and said it is in breach of the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, and also that it conflicts with Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, or mini-constitution.

Jardines Group, one of Hong Kong’s original foreign trading houses, published a full-page statement in the pro-Beijing newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, saying it was important to enact a legal framework to safeguard the city’s national security.

“It can ensure that Hong Kong continues to absorb investment, increase job opportunities and guarantee people’s livelihood,” Jardines said in the statement.

The group’s flagship company, Jardine Matheson Holdings, is listed in Singapore.