You are here

US sanctions on Hong Kong risk US$1.1 trillion in China funding

CHINA'S largest banks have US$1.1 trillion in US dollar funding at stake and face potentially steep fines from US legislation that targets penalising lenders doing businesses with Chinese officials involved in Hong Kong's controversial security law, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

The bipartisan measure, which was passed by the US Senate and still needs to go through the House and be signed by the US president, bars financial institutions from providing accounts to sanctioned officials, many of whom may be assumed to use the services of China's biggest banks, said Francis Chan, a senior analyst at BI in Hong Kong, in a June 30 note. Banks in violation risk being cut off from accessing the US financial system, he said.

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd, China Construction Bank Corp, Bank of China Ltd and Agricultural Bank of China Ltd, the nation's four largest state-backed lenders, had a combined 7.5 trillion yuan (S$1.5 trillion) equivalent of US dollar liabilities at the end of 2019, of which 47 per cent were deposits, according to their annual reports. The rest came from interbank borrowing and issuing securities to global investors.

The legislation would apply penalties against financial institutions only if a bank knowingly does business with an official under sanction. The bill is intended to keep the penalties from capturing a broad swath of US companies, an administration official familiar with the discussions said earlier. Banks will be informed of what entities are on the sanctions list before penalties are imposed, the source said.

Among Chinese banks, Bank of China had the biggest exposure to the US dollar with about US$433 billion of liabilities, followed by ICBC. Chinese lenders have been expanding their presence globally over the past decade by adding branches, making acquisitions and granting loans to fund everything from local power plants to toll roads.

Global banks could also be at risk since they may also have Chinese officials, their relatives and associates as customers, Mr Chan said. Standard Chartered plc paid more than US$600 million in fines in 2019 for breaching sanctions against Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. BNP Paribas SA was fined US$8.9 billion by the US in 2014, the largest for an individual bank, for transactions with Sudan and other blacklisted nations.

The Trump administration overnight escalated pressure on China over its crackdown on Hong Kong by making it harder to export sensitive technology to the city, while lawmakers in Beijing on Tuesday approved the landmark security law. The Commerce Department said it is suspending regulations allowing special treatment to Hong Kong over things including export license exceptions. BLOOMBERG

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to t.me/BizTimes