HSBC defends China policy in UK lawmaker questioning

Last year, US and UK politicians criticised the lender's support for a new national security law for Hong Kong. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON/HONG KONG (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 the Chinese authorities.

Facing questions from UK lawmakers Tuesday (Jan 26), Mr 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 Mr 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 Chinese city's legislative assembly, has criticised HSBC for freezing his family's bank accounts after he fled the former British colony.

Mr 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 UK Parliament's foreign affairs committee, which rarely calls senior bankers to appear. HSBC's head of group compliance, Mr 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, US and UK politicians criticised 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.

"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," said Mr Quinn.

"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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