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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday criticized the British bank HSBC for allegedly operating bank accounts for individuals sanctioned by the U.S. government while shutting the accounts of people linked to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Pompeo blamed China’s government for HSBC’s alleged actions, saying in a Wednesday statement that “the Chinese Communist Party’s coercive bullying tactics against our friends in the United Kingdom continues.”
According to the statement, HSBC has prevented executives of Next Digital, the publisher of pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, from accessing their personal bank accounts and HSBC credit cards.
The U.S. sanctioned 11 government officials in Hong Kong and mainland China in early August over their involvement in the controversial national security law that took effect in Hong Kong on June 30.
“The bank is thus maintaining accounts for individuals who have been sanctioned for denying freedom for Hong Kongers, while shutting accounts for those who seek freedom,” Pompeo said in the statement. He did not identify the sanctioned individuals whose bank accounts HSBC is allegedly continuing to operate.
HSBC didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
HSBC is headquartered in London, but most of its profit comes from the Asia-Pacific region. It is the largest bank in Hong Kong, where it was founded in 1865 when the region was a British colony.
Starting with last year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the firm has increasingly been caught in the crossfire of the U.S.-China geopolitical feud.
After the national security law passed in Hong Kong, HSBC released a statement affirming its support for “laws and regulations” and the governing principles that determine the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, spurring criticism from pro-democracy activists and, later, from Pompeo and U.S. officials.
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