Strategy

HSBC Senior Figure Raps UK Government For China Stance – Media

Editorial Staff 8 August 2023

HSBC Senior Figure Raps UK Government For China Stance – Media

The story highlights how HSBC, which earns a large chunk of its revenues in Asia, has a delicate balance to strike over how its senior figures comment on East-West controversies, such as trade, privacy and individual rights.

The head of public affairs at UK/Hong Kong-listed HSBC has reportedly apologised after accusing the UK government of being "weak" for complying with US demands to reduce business dealings with China.

A report by the BBC yesterday quoted an HSBC spokesperson saying that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles made the comments "at a private roundtable discussion and shared his personal views."

"I was speaking at a private event under Chatham House Rules and my personal comments do not reflect the views of HSBC or the China British Business Council. I apologise for any offence caused," Sir Sherard, who is also chairman of the China-Britain Business Council lobby group said in a statement provided to the BBC by HSBC.

Sir Sherard told a closed-door meeting that Britain often bowed to calls by the US and should look after the UK's own interests, rather than blindly following Washington's lead, Bloomberg first reported, citing unnamed sources.

The controversy shines a light on the balance that HSBC must strike. Although it is based in the UK, it earns more than 80 per cent of its profits outside the UK, a large proportion of which comes from Asia. In 2020, the bank, along with fellow UK-listed lender Standard Chartered, publicly supported Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong. Western lawmakers have accused HSBC of declining applications from Hong Kong residents who want to emigrate to access their savings.

The controversy is an example of how banks’ treatment of clients is being affected by political and other non-banking objectives. The recent "debanking" controversy at Coutts/NatWest, for example, has shone a light on how far such behaviour should be allowed to go. 

Banks are also caught in the crossfire between the West and China’s disputes over trade. 

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