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UPDATE 5-U.S. slams HSBC over treatment of Hong Kong customers, says China 'bullying' UK

Wed, 26th Aug 2020 12:37

* Pompeo renews attack on British bank

* HSBC caught in Beijing-Washington spat

* Bank declines to comment
(Adds comment from FCO spokesman)

By Susan Heavey, Lawrence White and Anne Marie Roantree

WASHINGTON/LONDON/HONG KONG, Aug 26 (Reuters) - U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday renewed criticism of
British bank HSBC for its reported treatment of
customers linked with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong,
saying China was "bullying" the United Kingdom.

Pompeo cited reports of Hong Kong-based executives at Next
Media being unable to access their HSBC bank accounts and said
the bank was "maintaining accounts for individuals who have been
sanctioned for denying freedom for Hong Kongers, while shutting
accounts for those seeking freedom."

"Free nations must ensure that corporate interests are not
suborned by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) to aid its
political repression," Pompeo said in a statement.

Next Media is the previous name of Next Digital,
publisher of the Apple Daily newspaper and part-owned by
democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was arrested
Aug. 10 under Hong Kong's new security law.

While Next Digital's business account remains open, HSBC has
frozen Lai's personal and private business accounts, as well as
the personal and credit card accounts of senior executive Mark
Simon, Simon told Reuters.

The bank is still taking loan and credit card payments from
the accounts despite the block, Simon said.

A spokeswoman for London-based HSBC declined to comment on
Pompeo's remarks or the allegations made by Next Digital.

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office
said: "We are in close contact with a wide range of businesses
in Hong Kong and are working with them on the impact of the
national security legislation and related developments."

China's Foreign Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond
to a request for comment.

HSBC has in recent months faced mounting pressure on both
sides of the Atlantic as it attempts to balance its need to
maintain access to the Chinese market with appeasing lawmakers
in the United States and Britain critical of Beijing's handling
of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Senior British and U.S. politicians have criticized HSBC and
Standard Chartered after the banks backed China's
national security law for the territory.

Last month, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
reprimanded HSBC and other banks for supporting the new law,
saying the rights of the people of Hong Kong should not be
sacrificed for bankers' bonuses.

Global banks have been examining whether their clients in
Hong Kong have ties to the city's pro-democracy movement, in an
attempt to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs of the
security law, Reuters reported last month.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Lawrence White and
Sinead Cruise in London, and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong;
additional reporting by Beijing bureau and Juby Babu in
Bengaluru; editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O'Brien)

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