British firms support China despite censure by British Government

HSBC and Standard Chartered are among big British firms that have decided to offer China support amid the criticism unleashed by its promulgation of the new Hong Kong security law. This is completely at odds with the stance of the British government, and experts say it is has been made necessary because of the large Chinese market.


In a development that is at odds with the stance of the British Government, British firms support China over the new security law in Hong Kong. HSBC and Standard Chartered on Thursday backed China’s contentious security law proposal for Hong Kong, which critics fear will be used to stamp out dissent in the city. While this is completely at odds with the official policy, British firms have a lucrative market in China and can not risk alienating that segment.

Beijing announced plans last month to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose the law, following seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year.

China says the law is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism” in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.

Opponents fear it will be used to stifle local opposition to Communist Party rule, despite the promise of limited freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.

British firms support China: HSBC and Standard Chartered among supporters

Several conglomerates with mainland business interests have in recent days issued statements supporting the bill, including the Asia-focused banking giants.

“HSBC reiterates that we respect and support laws that will stabilise Hong Kong’s social order and revitalise the economy,” HSBC said in a post on Chinese social media WeChat.

The statement accompanied a picture of the bank’s top Asia executive, Peter Wong, signing a petition in support of the law on Wednesday.

In an interview with China’s state media agency Xinhua, Wong said he hoped the law would bring “long-term stability and prosperity” to Hong Kong.

His comments came after the city’s pro-Beijing former leader Leung Chun-ying publicly criticised the British bank for not publicly supporting the law while profiting from its Chinese business interests.

London-based Standard Chartered also lined up to support the laws, saying they hoped details of its provisions would “enable Hong Kong to maintain economic and social stability”.

And British multinational Jardine Matheson took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper on Wednesday to pledge its support for the bill.

British firms support China: at odds with official policy

The UK on Thursday called on China to “re-consider” and “step back from the brink” over the crisis in Hong Kong. It has advised China to rethink its strategy, as its move are putting the Sino-British Joint Declaration in danger. The cautioning from the United Kingdom comes amid a heated feud between Washington and Beijing over the city’s freedoms. The city-state has become a battleground and somewhat of a proxy for the ongoing escalation in tensions between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of China. Tempers on both sides of the rift are running short, and the mudslinging is in full flow.

In a statement to parliament, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Hong Kong’s success was built on its autonomy and freedoms, and that China itself has long affirmed the One Country, Two Systems approach.

Read more: Joint Declaration in danger says Britain as it cautions China over Hong Kong

“The UK, through successive governments, has consistently respected and supported that model, as reflected both in China’s Basic Law and also the Joint Declaration,” Raab said.

The Joint Declaration is a UK-China treaty registered with the UN, which was part of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1984.

The firms’ support of the law is at odds with the British government, which says the bill breached the agreement signed with China to govern the territory after the 1997 handover.

Dominic Raab said Tuesday he had spoken to allies including the United States and Australia about potentially opening their doors to Hong Kongers seeking to leave the city if the law is passed.

Britain offers Hong Kongers citizenship

Writing in a column, British Prime Minister Johnson wrote that if China proceeds to justify the “fears” of Hong Kongers, “then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”

About 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently hold British National (Overseas) passports, which allow visa-free access to Britain for up to six months.

Read more: British interference in Hong Kong will ‘backfire’ says China

Another 2.5 million people would be eligible to apply for one.

Johnson said Britain could allow BN(O) holders to come for a renewable period of 12 months “and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship”.

Britain says it views the proposed law as a breach of the 1984 agreement with Beijing ahead of the handover guaranteeing Hong Kong’s freedoms and a level of autonomy — a deal that formed the bedrock of its rise as a world class finance centre.

“Britain does not seek to prevent China’s rise,” Johnson wrote. “It is precisely because we welcome China as a leading member of the world community that we expect it to abide by international agreements.”

But Zhao said the Sino-British agreement “does not contain a single word or clause that gives the UK any responsibility for Hong Kong after its handover”.

His comments came as political tensions are rising in Hong Kong once more.

On Wednesday lawmakers in the city’s pro-Beijing weighted legislature restarted debate on a law that would criminalise insults to China’s national anthem.

The bill is likely to be passed on Thursday — a day when Hong Kongers will also mark the anniversary of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, despite city authorities banning the traditional annual vigil because of the coronavirus.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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