A former British ambassador who is now HSBC’s head of public affairs has apologised for accusing Britain of weakness by falling into line with US policy on China. Sherard Cowper-Coles told a private gathering in London in June the UK should attend to its own interests rather than operate in lockstep with Washington, which under both Trump and Biden has sought to limit Chinese access to western markets and dual-use technologies. Cowper-Coles gave the example of Britain following the US lead on banning Huawei from 5G mobile network contracts in the UK, Bloomberg reports. Earlier this year he also told state-run Chinese TV that western politicians tend to “demonise” China. HSBC is listed in London but its most lucrative operations are in China and its “associates” – the term it uses to distinguish between Hong Kong and the mainland. Last year it attributed $1 billion in profits to “mainland China (excluding associates)” and $6.9 billion to Hong Kong. Cowper-Coles is also chairman of the China-Britain Business Council, a lobbying role that gives him access to senior officials in Beijing. He says his remarks in June were in a personal capacity, and HSBC – whose business model depends on staying in good odour with democracies as well as Xi’s dictatorship – says so too.
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