Joshua Wong, the leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, warned that more companies could follow suit.
He said: “It is forseeable that more companies are forced to kowtow to Beijing once the law is implemented in the city. Under Beijing’s tightening grip, Hong Kong is no longer an autonomous city for investors and expats.”
London-listed HSBC was founded in Hong Kong in 1865 to support international trade between China and Europe and makes almost all its profits in Asia.
One former British security official described the decision by HSBC and Standard Chartered as “depressing”, adding: “Banks seem to have decided to collude with a Beijing policy that will inevitably lead to the decline of Hong Kong. They must be calculating that this is a price worth paying for access to China, but that may be shortsighted as well as unethical.”
The move also attracted criticism in the US. Rick Scott, a Republican senator for Florida, tweeted that HSBC had “chosen profits over human rights”.
The bank is already on thin ice with US authorities after nearly losing its dollar licence in 2012 due to money laundering by Mexican drug cartels.
Mr Scott said: “Siding with Communist China in its latest effort to deny autonomy and human rights to the people of Hong Kong is dangerous and shameful. We will not forget it.”
Tensions have risen this week after a vigil marking the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 was cancelled due to coronavirus, leading Amnesty International to accuse the police of exacerbating tensions ahead of the “disastrous” security law.
Earlier this week spokespeople for HSBC and Standard Chartered said that they supported laws which maintain Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” principle while rebuilding its long-term economy.