HSBC cannot stay silent as China’s crimes are exposed

Perhaps Quinn will offer MPs a different and more convincing characterisation this week. He would do well to bear in mind these words from Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative committee chairman: “Companies listed in London should expect to be scrutinised according to the values we hold, not those of a foreign dictatorship.”

It follows that HSBC’s business today appears as a towering, teetering hypocrisy.

At one end it is the fourth most valuable company listed in London, a financial market taking the ethical responsibilities of companies increasingly seriously. It provides tens of billions of pounds of mortgage lending to Britons every year under the slogan “together we thrive”. 

Quinn promotes the bank’s commitment to improving its diversity and developing the careers of its black and ethnic minority staff.

At the other end, HSBC aligns itself with a regime accused by the United States of genocide. It shuts down the accounts of Hong Kongers who inconvenience Beijing by exercising their rights, and faces questions over whether it sometimes does this voluntarily or only on orders.

The presence of many CCP members in HSBC’s upper ranks may make the distinction impossible to draw. The bank has lobbied Downing Street against angering China. In the United States it was among the multinationals that opposed legislation prohibiting goods made with forced labour in Xinjiang.

Quinn must be prepared to answer to all of this. As the Westminster debate over genocide against the Uighurs continues, ministers are following the US with steps “to prevent British commercial engagement with goods that are made by forced labour in Xinjiang”. Does HSBC oppose that too?

As Quinn said in response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests: “Saying the right words is easy. Doing the right thing is harder.”

Too true, as the Uighurs know too well. The West is in the midst of a reckoning over China. 

Britain’s self-serving hopes that forging a partnership with Beijing would help freedom take root have evaporated. The CCP is instead building the world’s first hi-tech prison state.

As geopolitics shift to account for this reality, the financial system must be reshaped. HSBC should admit it and get ready for a break-up.

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