HSBC, the British bank torn between China and the United States

HSBC offices, Hong Kong, September 22, 2020.

When he discovered at the end of 2019 that the Chinese government had adopted very concrete retaliatory measures against his bank, this head of HSBC in Europe, who wishes to remain anonymous, almost fell from his chair . An order has obviously been given in high places in China to avoid the British bank. “Several large international companies, which do business with Chinese public entities, can no longer go through us. Chinese public groups have refused for ten months that HSBC is the counterpart “, he explains.

Here is the British bank HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), the most Chinese of Western institutions, whose financial empire extends from east to west, blacklisted by Beijing. The pressure from the Middle Kingdom increased again a notch, Saturday, September 19. The Global Times, a Chinese state tabloid, claimed that the country could put the establishment on its so-called blacklist “Unreliable entities”. Corollary: HSBC would risk being denied visas for its executives, or even being prohibited from financing exports or imports into China.

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Investors were not mistaken: the stock market price of the financial institution, already in free fall for three years, reached its nadir in twenty-five years. For HSBC, whose core business is to bridge the gap between China and the West, with its 235,000 employees and 40 million customers worldwide, the new cold war between Beijing and Washington is causing a crisis. deep.

Dirty money laundering case

This brutal deterioration in relations between HSBC and Beijing dates back to December 2018. Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, was arrested in Vancouver (Canada), where she stopped between two planes, in the request of the United States. Washington accuses her of having circumvented US sanctions against Iran and wants to try her for fraud.

Quickly, the Chinese press points the finger at the responsible: HSBC. According to documents submitted by the Americans to Canadian justice, the bank had, five years earlier, met Meng Wanzhou, to ask him for an explanation of its relations with Skycom, an Iranian company. That conversation, along with a PowerPoint document she then provided to the bank, is now the basis for the US Department of Justice (DoJ) charges.

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