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HSBC’s Head of Public Affairs Apologises for Criticising British Government’s Compliance with US Demands

By Peter Hoskins

Business Reporter

HSBC’s head of public affairs has apologised after accusing the British government of being “weak” for complying with US demands to cut back business dealings with China.

A spokesperson for the bank said Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles made the comments “at a private roundtable discussion and shared his personal views.”

The UK-based firm makes much of its profit in Asia, including China. As tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent years, HSBC finds itself in a delicate position due to its significant business interests in the region.

Sir Sherard, who is also chairman of the China-Britain Business Council lobby group, clarified: “I was speaking at a private event under Chatham House Rules and my personal comments do not reflect the views of HSBC or the China British Business Council. I apologise for any offence caused,” according to a statement provided to the BBC by HSBC.

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Under the Chatham House Rule, attendees of meetings are free to use information gained from discussions but are not allowed to reveal who made any comments. This rule, created almost a century ago, facilitates debates on controversial topics and is named after the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Bloomberg News reported that Sir Sherard criticized the UK for often succumbing to US demands and advocated for safeguarding the UK’s interests rather than blindly following Washington’s lead. He cited the UK’s decision to ban Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from participating in building the country’s 5G mobile phone networks in 2020 as an example of bowing to US pressure.

In light of this incident, HSBC faces the challenge of managing its relationship with both US and Chinese authorities while preserving its financial interests. With over 80% of its profits generated outside the UK, including more than half from mainland China and Hong Kong, HSBC must tread carefully in this diplomatic balancing act.

The ongoing trade restrictions and disputes between China and the US have put Western governments, including the UK, in a difficult position. The constant back-and-forth between the two largest economies has resulted in retaliatory measures and trade barriers.

In October, the US announced restrictions on China’s access to advanced computer chip technology, and in response, China recently imposed restrictions on the export of gallium and germanium, materials crucial to the semiconductor industry.

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