China’s Ping An boosts HSBC stake as international tensions simmer

September 28, 2020.

Ping An Group, the top shareholder of , has lifted its stake in the bank to 8% as the U.K. lender continues its pivot to China, a strategy which has drawn scrutiny from Western politicians amid rising political tensions.

According to a Friday exchange filing, the Shenzhen-based insurer bought 10.8 million shares of HSBC at an average price of HKD 28.29 ($3.65) per share through its asset management arm. The purchase marks the latest addition to Ping An’s growing position in the bank, which for years has earned most of its revenue in Asia.

Ping An was HSBC’s largest single shareholder even before the most recent transaction, having begun building up its holdings in the London-based lender since 2016. The carrier knocked fund manager BlackRock out of the top spot in late 2018, Reuters reported, and held a 7.95% stake just before last week’s purchase.

The insurer’s investment comes as HSBC navigates increasingly fraught diplomatic and economic relations between China, a key revenue engine, and countries including the U.S. and U.K.

The bank found itself in the middle of the geopolitical row after the CEO of its Asia-Pacific business signed a petition supporting the implementation of a controversial Beijing-backed national security law in Hong Kong. Critics said the law, which HSBC formally backed amid pressure from Chinese state-run media, sharply curtails civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed HSBC for the move, accusing the bank of giving in to “browbeating” by China’s central government.

In July, Chinese media accused HSBC of “setting traps to ensnare” Chinese telecom Huawei, which the U.K. chose to block from building its 5G networks. HSBC, which had warned the U.K. that a Huawei ban could lead to repercussions for the bank, refuted claims of a set-up.

And in August, Pompeo again criticized HSBC in the wake of reports that it had prevented Hong Kong-based executives at Next Media, a publisher of pro-democracy publications, from accessing their credit cards and personal accounts.