Hong Kong opposition party protests after HSBC shuts accounts

One of Hong Kong’s last remaining opposition parties staged a rare protest Tuesday outside the headquarters of HSBC after the global banking giant closed its accounts.

Major corporations in the financial hub have been under pressure to toe the line as China cracks down on dissent in the former British colony following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The League of Social Democrats (LSD) said Hong Kong’s largest lender had shut its corporate accounts without explanation after 17 years.

“This is part of systemic oppression against freedom of association and speech,” said LSD vice-chairman Dickson Chau as he and four others rallied outside the bank’s offices in downtown Hong Kong.

The small group held a banner that accused HSBC of “bringing shame to the international finance hub”.

The party demanded HSBC review its decision and meet with them to discuss the matter.

Another Hong Kong lender, Hang Seng Bank, which is majority owned by HSBC, had also closed personal accounts held by LSD members, as had Bank of China, one of the country’s top four state-owned banks, the party said.

An HSBC spokesperson said Tuesday that the bank conducts regular reviews of customer account activity and “relationships” as part of its due diligence process.

“Based on these reviews, HSBC may decide that we will no longer be able to maintain the banking relationships with certain customers,” the spokesperson said.

AFP has sent queries to Bank of China.

Hong Kong operates under a separate legal and economic system to the rest of China — a major attraction for global firms — but since the 2019 protests Beijing has stepped up pressure on big corporations to support government policy.

HSBC condemned violence perpetrated by some protesters during the 2019 demonstrations and the following year was a vocal supporter when China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong.

In recent years HSBC has also frozen accounts held by other pro-democracy groups and individuals under orders from police.

In 2019 it froze an account containing HK$70 million ($8.93 million) belonging to Spark Alliance, a group providing financial assistance to protesters in need of legal or medical aid.

Ted Hui, a former lawmaker in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy bloc who is now in exile in Australia, said in 2021 that accounts held by him and his family had been frozen by HSBC.

Under the national security law, Hong Kong’s security minister can freeze the assets of anyone deemed a national security suspect. (AFP)