U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted HSBC for allegedly blocking bank accounts tied to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, again accusing the bank of becoming a political tool used by China to carry out its “coercive bullying tactics” against the U.K.
Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday that HSBC had reportedly prevented executives of Hong Kong-based Next Media from accessing their credit cards and personal bank accounts, shutting out its customers “seeking freedom” while “maintaining accounts for individuals who have been sanctioned for denying freedom for Hong Kongers.”
Next Media, now known as Next Digital, is partly owned by democracy activist Jimmy Lai, who was arrested earlier this month for violating the security law imposed on Hong Kong by China. The controversial policy nominally criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion, and it significantly rolled back the civil liberties formerly available to residents of the city.
HSBC has frozen Lai’s personal and private business accounts as well as some personal and credit card accounts of Next Digital senior executive Mark Simon, the latter told Reuters.
A spokesman for HSBC declined to comment on Pompeo’s remarks.
The bank, which is based in London but draws most of its profit from Asia, has found itself caught between China and the West and is being buffeted on both sides. It was lambasted in June when its Asia-Pacific CEO, Peter Wong, signed a petition supporting the security law, which is viewed by critics as a violation of the U.K.’s agreement with Beijing to grant the former colony a “high degree of autonomy.”
HSBC faced immediate rebuke from a slate of British officials and Pompeo, who in June accused it of buckling under pressure from Beijing and said the bank’s business was being used as “political leverage against London.” At the time, the U.K. was mulling a ban of Chinese telecom Huawei when reports emerged HSBC had warned against the move, saying the bank could face repercussions in China.
Last month, after the U.K. decided to block Huawei from building its 5G networks, Chinese state-run media accused the bank of “setting traps to ensnare” the telecom giant. HSBC said it cooperated with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Huawei but denied allegations it framed the company.