Chinese State market interference and industrial espionage is at the centre of the plot of The Umbrella Men. The Umbrella Men of the book were Twain’s unreliable bankers (who will lend you their umbrella when the sun is shining, but want it back the minute it begins to rain…), not the brave Umbrella Movement fighters for democracy in Hong Kong, whose umbrellas are their only defence against the pepper-spray. All the same, both Chinese threats to democracy and state interference are more significant than ever.
Virtue-signalling alert: in protest at HSBC’s kowtowing, their cowardly support for China’s latest premature grab at Hong Kong – the National Security Law (NSL) – I am closing my accounts with HSBC and its subsidiary, First Direct.
Big deal. I don’t expect a volte face from the bank; not even a call from the CEO begging me to change my mind. Hell, I doubt my gesture will even be discussed at the next board meeting…
The truth is, HSBC will not even notice this micro-aggression. However, there is my aforementioned virtue – that should feel good. I’ll briefly know how Gary Linaker feels nearly all the time.
Plus, by a process of replication and accumulation, individual choices can end up mattering – rather as they do in democracy, a system that the Communist Party of China (CPC) would like to see snuffed out. Individual choices mattering is one of the great things about not living under autocratic régimes such as , well, the CPC. And in Hong Kong today individual choice is unremittingly being chipped away.
That’s something the board of HSBC should definitely have had on its last agenda. Instead they had (the final item before lunch):
- Hong Kong and the CPC’s National Security Law – favouring craven business interests ahead of the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens.
Even the British Labour Party has cottoned on, writing to the head honchos at both HSBC and Standard Chartered (another offender; why is it always the banks?) deploring their acceptance of China’s unilateral imposition of its National Security Law on Hong Kong, widely seen as likely to have a chilling effect on personal liberties, quite at odds with what was agreed when Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1984. Ms Nandy – whom I always liked, until she got all confused about her pronouns – neatly drew a parallel with South African disinvestment over apartheid, a nice veiled threat that led me to my own personal disinvestment decision. Am I turning into a socialist?
So: Umbrella People of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your … erm, nothing really. There are plenty of banks out there with more spine than HSBC. If they insist on their anti-democratic kowtowing, move your account.
Wow, that felt good. I understand now what JK Rowling sees in it.