Influential US lawmakers have demanded that HSBC, one of the world’s biggest banks, explain its actions in freezing accounts of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, moves that could leave it liable to severe sanctions under American law.
“We are writing to raise questions and concerns about HSBC’s business practices in Hong Kong and globally,” the members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, wrote to Noel Quinn, group chief executive of HSBC.
The bipartisan group of six senators and seven House of Representative members demanded to know why restrictions were placed on the accounts of US citizens and Hong Kong activists, independent media and civic groups.
The letter, released by the CECC on Thursday, referenced a public pledge of support in 2020 by HSBC’s then Asia Pacific chief executive Peter Wong, for a draconian national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong.
“Since his statement in June 2020, the Hong Kong authorities have put almost the entirety of the city’s opposition figures behind bars and denied bail to most,” the letter said.
“The government further disqualified and arrested previously elected legislators and district councillors, and went on to rewrite electoral rules to allow only ‘patriots’ fully vetted by the national security police to run in future elections.”
HSBC had also frozen bank accounts of activists, independent media, and civic groups, many of which were forced to close or end operations, it said.
The lawmakers said they had been told that accounts of American citizens had been restricted, including at HSBC branches in the US, and this required “immediate rectification” if true.
The letter added that holders of British National (Overseas) passports had been denied the ability to withdraw pension funds from HSBC when leaving Hong Kong for Britain.
This “raises questions whether HSBC is aiding and abetting the government’s policy to restrain exit”, the letter said.
The letter called on HSBC to justify its actions and to state whether they were taken at the request of Hong Kong authorities or Chinese officials.
“We are in receipt of the commission’s request and will work to address their questions,” Matt Ward, the head of communications at HSBC Bank USA, told Reuters in an email.
“Like every bank, we are required to operate within the law and legal frameworks of all the countries in which we operate,” Ward said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell