HSBC took to Chinese social media on Saturday to debunk what it calls “misinterpretation of facts” and defend its role in the United States’ inquiry of Huawei Technologies, as it faced blistering criticism this week in several of mainland China’s newspapers.
Scrutiny of Huawei began well before the bank’s involvement in late 2016, London-based HSBC said in a social media post on Saturday, adding that it did not prompt US investigations of the Chinese telecommunications company.
US investigations led to Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 at the behest of the American Department of Justice (DOJ). Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is under house arrest in Vancouver, where she is mounting her defence against an extradition to the United States to face US charges.
“HSBC does not have any hostility towards Huawei and did not ‘frame’ Huawei,” HSBC said in a post on its WeChat account in Chinese. “The information provided by HSBC Group to the DOJ was done so pursuant to formal demand. In response to US DOJ’s requests for information, HSBC Group simply presented the objective facts. HSBC did not “fabricate” evidence or “hide” facts. And HSBC would never distort the facts or seek to harm any of our clients for our own gain.”
HSBC took to China’s social media after the nationalistic tabloid Global Times and the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper People’s Daily accused the bank of “fabricating” evidence and “maliciously framing” Meng. HSBC should be prepared for “harsh punishment” from Beijing, Global Times wrote, quoting an unidentified observer, and raised the spectre of the bank being placed on an unreliable entities list in China.
In court filings in Vancouver on Thursday, Meng’s lawyers asked a Canadian court to halt extradition proceedings against her, accusing US President Donald Trump of interfering in the case for political purposes, and claiming that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was supporting the use of Meng as a “bargaining chip” in trade negotiations.
This week’s furore in the Chinese media is the latest controversy for HSBC, as relations deteriorated between Washington and Beijing to the worst level in decades. The bank, the subject of snide remarks and online criticism for more than a year in China, had previously hunkered down and kept a low social media profile, until last week’s criticisms by two of the most influential newspapers in China, and by the state broadcaster CCTV.
It was HSBC’s “inaction” and “management inadequacies” in handling Meng’s account that indirectly led to the risk of the Huawei official’s extradition, according to the transcript of a video clip on the website of CCTV, which claimed an audience of 1.2 billion viewers in 2007.
The bank, which earns more than half its income in Asia, went on a charm offensive in Beijing last summer, quietly telling Chinese officials at the time that it had no choice but to comply with American authorities regarding Huawei because it had an obligation under US financial regulations to do so, according to people familiar with the matter. At the time of its cooperation with US prosecutors, HSBC was subject to a corporate monitorship as part of a prior settlement with the US authorities.
Last month, the bank also took to social media to defend itself against what it said were “groundless” rumours casting doubt over about the future of its mainland China business.
One of three banks authorised to issue legal tender in Hong Kong, HSBC was attacked online and in mainland China’s media in May when it kept silent on a controversial national security law for the city. The bank, which traces its root to Hong Kong and Shanghai more than a century ago, finally came out publicly in support of the legislation in early June, posting a photo of its Asia-Pacific chief executive Peter Wong Tung-shun signing a petition in favour of the law. That prompted a backlash among politicians in the US and in United Kingdom, where HSBC’s head office is.
The bank, which is preparing to cut up to 35,000 jobs globally, is betting its growth on Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area (GBA), part of a major revamp under CEO Noel Quinn.
In its post on Saturday, HSBC said it never “set traps to ensnare Huawei” and it would “never distort the facts or seek intentionally to harm other’s interests for our own gain”.
“At HSBC, we rely on international collaboration and trust to provide for a stable business environment for our normal operation,” the bank said. “We also rely on each sector in the community to fully understand that international banks must follow international rules, and to give a fair judgment to the values and contributions of their services provided to international customers and local markets.”
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