HSBC CEO Defends China Policy Under Fire From U.K. Lawmakers
(Bloomberg) -- HSBC Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn said the bank had no option but to close an exiled Hong Kong lawmaker’s account as he defended the lender against accusations it had become a tool of Chinese authorities.
Facing questions from U.K. lawmakers Tuesday, Quinn said HSBC’s decision was driven purely by the need to comply with local laws.
“I’m not in a position as a banker to be able to judge the motives or validity of that legal instruction from a law enforcement authority,” said Quinn. “I’m not making a moral judgment, it’s not my position to make a moral or political judgment on these matters. I have to comply with the law.”
Ted Hui, a former member of the the city’s legislative assembly, has criticized HSBC for freezing his and his family’s bank accounts after he fled the former British colony.
Quinn said the bank was “trying to stay out of the politics of one country versus another and do the right thing by our customers.”
The executive spoke to the U.K. parliament’s foreign affairs committee, which rarely calls senior bankers to appear. HSBC’s head of group compliance, Colin Bell, also attended.
The closing of Hui’s accounts was the latest in a string of controversies surrounding HSBC’s relationship with the government of China. Last year, U.S. and U.K. politicians criticized the lender’s support for a new national security law for Hong Kong, which they said marked a breach of commitments made ahead of Britain’s handover of the territory to Beijing in 1997.
HSBC is one of China’s largest international financial groups and the biggest player in Hong Kong’s banking sector, which it has dominated for more than a century. The city is the bank’s biggest source of earnings.
Collectively, Hong Kong and China accounted for more than 90% of HSBC’s adjusted profit in the first nine months of 2020 and the bank is one of the largest investors among foreign banks on the mainland.
In response to questions from lawmakers, Quinn said that he has no plans to split HSBC’s China unit from the rest of the bank and the lender does “good as an international bank.”
“I do not see a point where we have to split the institution into two,” said Quinn. “I don’t think that would be for the benefit of Hong Kong, and I don’t think that would be for the benefit of the U.K. either.”
Quinn also reiterated his commitment to Hong Kong.
“We are troubled about the challenges that Hong Kong has faced over the past two to three years. I’ve witnessed them myself personally having lived there,” he said. “I’m nowhere near the point at which the challenges Hong Kong faces would give me any hint or consideration of walking away from Hong Kong. We’re committed to it.”
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