HSBC’s share price drops below HK$30 – its lowest in 25 years. I remember it hitting around HK$130 (roughly) back in the days when China was cool and trendy. It is among a number of international banks named in a recent revelation of (old) cases of handling ‘dirty money’. Perhaps more pressing, Beijing is reportedly going to classify the bank as an ‘unreliable foreign entity’ (a way of lashing out in frustration at the West’s perceived advantage in using extraterritorial/global sanctions against Chinese companies).
Beijing’s state media recently hinted that companies on this forthcoming list could help themselves by ‘showing sincerity’ – a grim CCP phrase meaning the spouting of blatant untruths and other self-abasing forms of kowtowing-as-contrition. No shortage of ways for HSBC to do that. Mailing a copy of Xi Jinping’s book to every account holder. Requiring staff to line up and sing the national anthem on the sidewalk outside branches every morning. Chief Exec Peter Wong to kneel on broken glass. Freezing pan-dem-related bank accounts (oh, done that already).
Anything more substantial HSBC does to appease the Panda will rub up against the regulatory and political realities of its UK domicile and presence in Western markets. This creates potentially impossible positions – like the ‘compliance mismatch’ where it has to betray Beijing by handing over dirt on Huawei’s Ms Meng to the Feds.
For Hong Kong, the symbolism is acute. The bank is the embodiment of colonial-era institutions that form part of Hong Kong’s identity. And the pain is real to many small investors, including retirees, who hold HSBC stock.
A case study in both the great de-linkage story and in the Sad Decline of Hong Kong Saga.
Meanwhile, in More Great Moments in China’s Soft Power: an ABC correspondent on how Chinese officials threatened his family – including 14-year-old daughter – back in 2018.