Investigation opens into role of UK banks in Hong Kong in ‘removing’ duties
Parliamentarians in London have launched a new investigation into allegations that British banks, including HSBC, have helped Beijing punish pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong, which includes both unelected peers and MPs, is asking for written testimony from activists whose bank accounts have been frozen.
The aim is to determine whether British banks have contributed to the suppression of human rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech, movement, assembly and property. The investigation also seeks to establish whether the banks’ actions create a risk for Britain.
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“These banks benefit from the UK government’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights, and as such, these are principles they should adhere to when operating in abroad, ”said the group’s co-chairs, Alistair du Labor. Natalie Bennett, MP for Carmichael and peer of the Green Party.
“This investigation will seek to determine whether British banks are giving Hong Kong people the rights and dignity they deserve and shed new light on the responsibilities of these companies operating in foreign jurisdictions.”
The move follows a January meeting of the select Foreign Affairs Committee in which HSBC CEO Noel Quinn defended his bank’s decision to freeze the accounts of the fugitive former opposition MP Ted Hui Chi-fung and his family.
HSBC boss defends decision to freeze fugitive ex-lawmaker Ted Hui’s accounts
Quinn insisted the bank was legally obligated to act after being warned by Hong Kong police.
“This is a process that we apply very carefully and carefully with due diligence not only in Hong Kong but elsewhere in the world,” Quinn told the committee.
Chris Whitehouse, CEO of Whitehouse Communications, the public affairs consultancy carrying out the investigation on behalf of the multi-stakeholder group, said UK banks are encouraging their membership in ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance).
“It is not tenable to claim that you are doing all of these wonderful things while freezing bank accounts just because of the audacity to leave a country in which you are being pursued politically,” he said.
British banks operating in Hong Kong and mainland China have been invited by parliamentarians to make their own bids, although they have no obligation to do so.
“They don’t have to defend themselves but this is an opportunity for the banks to present their side of events,” Whitehouse said. “If they choose not to, the officers will draw their own conclusions.”
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle told the South China Morning Post that the formula chosen for the investigation, which consists of digitally secured written testimony instead of video, would make victims more likely to come forward.
“It gives people a space to record their experiences – we’re less scary than something official like a small parliamentary committee,” she said.
The information gathered will serve as both a brief and a tool to advise government policy, Bennett said.
Former lawmaker Ted Hui rejects HSBC’s explanation of reasons for freezing his accounts
The 28-member group, which includes Chinese hawks such as Tory MP Bob Seeley and Liberal Democrat peer David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, was formed in 2019 in response to the Hong Kong protests.
Its stated aim is “to promote democracy and the rule of law, and to defend human rights in Hong Kong, to share information about Hong Kong, to nurture relations between the United Kingdom and the people. from Hong Kong; and to welcome Hong Kong people coming to the UK ”.
HSBC, the former colonial bank, is headquartered in Canary Wharf in London, but makes most of its money in Asia, with its biggest profits in Hong Kong. It is one of the largest banks in the world with 200,000 employees in 64 countries, including 32,000 in the UK.
The Hong Kong controversy first hit the bank last year when Standard Chartered and the London-based one both made statements saying the then-proposed National Security Act could help keep the bank going. long-term stability in the city.
Former HSBC Asia Pacific chief executive Peter Wong then signed a petition supporting the law. Wong has since retired as CEO, but is now non-executive chairman.
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