DISSIDENT Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poked fun at Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China after he was denied his request to open a bank account with HSBC while at the bank’s headquarters in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Poking fun at the “One country, two systems” principle under which China and Hong Kong operate, the controversial artist suggested in an Instagram post that perhaps “one country, one system” would be better as the same did not happen in his home city of Beijing.
Ai’s comment, posted on Tuesday, read:
“I’m in Hong Kong, trying to open an account at HSBC. My request was refused due to a “commercial decision” from the headquarter. This has not happened to me in Beijing. Maybe “one country, one system” is better.”
A spokesperson for HSBC told South China Morning Post that, while the bank would not discuss individual cases specifically, “HSBC does not decline to open bank accounts because of individuals’ political views.”
One of the world’s most famous living artists, Ai has long run foul of Chinese authorities, culminating in 81 days of detention in 2011 amid a wider crackdown on political dissent. He was subsequently banned from travelling overseas for more than four years and his passport was confiscated.
But Ai’s case is not unique as this is not the first time that Chinese banks have been accused of blocking accounts or financial transactions involving dissidents or opposition figures.
In February, the Bank of China closed the account of Hong Kong’s pro-independence party, Youngspiration. The personal account of the party’s ousted lawmaker Baggio Leung was also frozen by HSBC. Leung and another ousted lawmaker, Yau Wai-ching, were using the party’s account to receive donations for a legal battle with the government over the disqualifications for their oaths of office.
Democracy activist Joshua Wong also claimed that HSBC refused to open accounts for his party, Demosisto, back in April last year.
At the time, Wong accused the bank of “political censorship”.
Banks globally have been implementing stricter vetting procedures and background checks after a number of institutions received sizeable penalties for not doing enough to combat money laundering and terrorism. As a result of this, many now employ commercial databases to assess the risks of politically-sensitive customers.