The head of HSBC has told MPs that he “can’t cherry pick which laws to follow” as he defended the bank over claims that it is helping China crack down on democracy in Hong Kong.
Chief executive Noel Quinn faced sharp criticism from members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee after the bank blocked democracy activists’ accounts.
Labour MP Chris Bryant accused the firm of “aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world”.
Mr Quinn told the committee that the bank was obliged to comply with police requests as it would anywhere in the world and was “not in a position to judge the motives” of the authorities.
The grilling came after HSBC was criticised for freezing the accounts of former Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui and other pro-democracy politicians.
Mr Quinn had written to Mr Hui to say that it had no choice but to comply with a police request to do so.
When pressed by MPs to explain whether it would deny such a request on ethical grounds, Mr Quinn said he was not considering this in Hong Kong.
He told the committee: “If you’re asking ‘am I willing to walk away from Hong Kong?’ the answer is no. We’re too committed through our history and heritage.”
The bank has its headquarters in Britain but was founded in the former UK territory in 1865 as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.
It has historically tried to remain politically neutral but has recently been dragged into controversy over the conflict over the city’s future amid a crackdown which has seen protests erupt.
Last June, it showed support for Beijing when its top executive in Asia signed a petition backing China’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell pressed Mr Quinn on why a UK customer, who cared about the city’s future, should keep banking with the firm.
The bank boss said that he also cared about Hong Kong, telling him: “We’ve seen Hong Kong go through some very difficult times in our 150 years there.
“I’m not a politician and I’m not an individual who should be commenting on one political system over another… my focus is on our customers.”