“If companies make political statements, they must accept the corporate responsibilities that follow,” Cumming said.
Even before the photo of Wong was published, HSBC faced a difficult situation. Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-Ying had earlier singled out the bank for its silence on the law, demanding that HSBC express its support.
Even Pompeo has noted that HSBC still faces a chilly reception in China.
“That show of fealty seems to have earned HSBC little respect in Beijing, which continues to use the bank’s business in China as political leverage,” he said in his statement, calling the Chinese Communist Party’s “browbeating” of HSBC a “cautionary tale.”
A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that everyone has “the right to make independent decisions based on merit.”
“For some in the US, perhaps the world only lies in two categories — either they are with the US and should attack China, or they have been coerced by China,” said Hua Chunying in response to a question about the Pompeo statement. “These views are narrow-minded and ridiculous.”
The attacks are a major headache for HSBC, which began life more than 150 years ago as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation with the aim of financing trade between Asia and Europe. The bank still has a major business presence in the region: Last year, its Hong Kong and China divisions pulled in enough money to wipe out losses in the United Kingdom and keep the company profitable.
HSBC declined to comment. The bank’s Hong Kong-listed stock closed down 1.5% Wednesday.
As a British business, the bank faces the risk of becoming collateral damage between the United Kingdom and China, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor for the Center of China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“It’s not surprising that the Chinese should have settled on HSBC as … a target,” Lam said.
Washington, meanwhile, “is trying to build a coalition” of allies against Beijing, according to Lam. He said that Pompeo’s decision to call out HSBC specifically reflects “exacerbated” tensions between the United States and China.
— Eoin McSweeney, Isaac Yee and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.