Mike Pompeo criticises HSBC for ‘corporate kowtow’ to China

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has criticised the British bank HSBC for supporting China’s move to end Hong Kong’s autonomy, calling it a “corporate kowtow”.

Pompeo said the US was ready to assist Britain with whatever it needed after Beijing reportedly threatened to punish HSBC and break its commitments to build nuclear power plants in the country if the UK did not allow the Chinese technology firm Huawei to build its 5G network.

“The United States stands with our allies and partners against the Chinese Communist party’s coercive bullying tactics,” Pompeo said in a statement.

He added that displays of support for Beijing received little in return, although the Chinese government “continues to use the bank’s business in China as political leverage against London”.

Pompeo said China’s treatment of HSBC was a “cautionary tale” and referred to the bank’s Asia Pacific chief executive Peter Wong’s decision to sign a petition supporting Beijing’s plans to enact new security legislation in Hong Kong.

HSBC also came in for criticism from one of Britain’s biggest investors, Aviva Investors, which hit out at the bank and its rival Standard Chartered for voicing their support for China’s new laws.

In a rare public criticism, Aviva’s investment boss, David Cumming, said he was “uneasy” about the banks’ support “without knowing the details of the law or how it will operate in practice”, adding that corporate responsibility comes with making political statements.

“Consequently, we expect both companies to confirm that they will also speak out publicly if there are any future abuses of democratic freedoms connected to this law,” he said.

HSBC’s chief executive and his counterpart at Standard Chartered have already been censured in a letter from Labour frontbench MPs, the shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, and urged to revoke their support for Beijing’s new legislation.

The members of the shadow cabinet warned the banks in a letter that they could face a boycott and urged them to uphold Britain’s democratic values.

Both banks have global operations, with a focus on Asia, but have headquarters in London.

The US Secretary of State has repeatedly criticised the behaviour of China and its Communist party, and its dealings with other countries including how it trades with Australia.

Pompeo added that Australia and Denmark, among other countries, had recently faced pressure from Beijing and it showed why countries should not be too reliant economically on China.

The US has also long campaigned against Huawei, which Pompeo called “an extension of the Chinese Communist party’s surveillance state” and has urged US allies not to include it in their mobile networks.

Beijing’s new national security laws have been condemned inside and outside of Hong Kong over fears that they could permanently undermine its autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework and could limit freedoms for Hong Kong citizens.

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