Around 40 per cent of the banks registered to vote in Hong Kong’s legislative elections on Sunday are foreign-owned, including some partly owned by their respective governments, despite Beijing’s warning against interference by foreign forces in the “patriots-only” poll.

Forty-six of the 114 electors in the finance functional constituency are banks from Europe, North America and other parts of Asia, a review by HKFP of information from the Registration and Electoral Office has found. The constituency will elect one member of the new “patriots only” 90-seat Legislative Council.

banks vote in hong kong
Photo: HKFP remix.

Of the list of foreign-owned banking companies that are electors, eight are headquartered in the US, including banking giants JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Other banks with a vote include Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Switzerland’s UBS. A total of 20 countries, and Taiwan, are represented on the list of banks that are registered electors.

The Bank of Taiwan is also among the electors, at a time of unprecedented cross-strait tensions.

The Legislative Council polls will be the first since Beijing’s sweeping electoral revamp, which has sharply reduced democratic representation. All candidates were screened through a multi-step process, led by government officials, to ensure that they are “patriots.”

legislative council national emblem national flag bill
Hong Kong lawmakers vote in favour of amendments to the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance on September 29, 2021. Photo: Legislative Council screenshot.

Foreign governments hold partial ownership of a number of the financial institutions registered to vote. NatWest is more than 50 per cent owned by the British state. Commerzbank’s biggest shareholder is the German government, which owns 15 per cent.

‘China’s internal affair’

Despite the fact that foreign banks have long held votes in Legislative Council elections, Beijing leaders and Chinese state media in the run-up to the latest polls have repeatedly warned unspecified “western forces” to stay out of the process.

“Hong Kong’s election is China’s internal affair,” Pan Yundong, the deputy commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday. “We will not allow any foreign forces to make irresponsible remarks with their ulterior motives.”

State-run newspaper People’s Daily lambasted Lo Kin-hei, chair of the Democratic Party, calling him a “chess pawn of foreign forces” in a Thursday editorial for allegedly blocking party candidates from running in the elections.

Lo Kin-hei
Lo Kin-hei meets the press after Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered the last Policy Address in her current term on October 6, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The Democratic Party did not put forward any candidates after saying that no members had applied to run. Other traditional opposition parties also did not field candidates.

Most pro-democracy figures are behind bars, in self-exile abroad, have quit politics or are barred from running.

Beijing-led electoral overhaul

Beijing’s overhaul increased the number of seats in the Legislative Council from 70 to 90, but only 20 seats – belonging to the geographical constituencies – will be directly elected by the public compared to 35 previously.

Legislative Council election 2021
Publicity materials promoting the Legislative Council election scheduled on December 19, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Election Committee, which consists of pro-Beijing loyalists, will vote for 40 members. The remaining 30 seats will be polled in close-circle elections by registered voters in special interest groups known as functional constituencies, such as the finance, tourism and education constituencies.

Two candidates are contesting the finance constituency this year, including the incumbent Ronick Chan, a Bank of China adviser. He is running against Owens Chan, a non-executive director at an Australia-based health and nutrition company.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.