The logo for Ping An Insurance Group is seen on a building in Beijing, China, Nov 23, 2021. (NG HAN GUAN / AP)

HONG KONG – Ping An Insurance Group defended its call to spin off HSBC's Asia business, citing its large holdings in the bank that affects its investment returns.

It is a significant investment and we've invested in it for seven years. We care much about long-term returns. We are not an activist investor.

Jessica Tan, co-CEO of Ping An Insurance Group

"It is a significant investment and we've invested in it for seven years," Jessica Tan, Ping An's co-CEO, told Reuters on Wednesday, when asked about the drivers behind urging Europe's largest bank to consider a spin-off.

"We care much about long-term returns," Tan said in remarks that were among the first official comments by the insurer's senior management on the saga with HSBC.

"We are not an activist investor," she said.

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Europe's biggest lender, which makes the bulk of its sales and profit in Asia, came under pressure from Ping An in April to explore options including listing its mainstay Asia business to increase shareholder returns. 

Ping An is HSBC's largest shareholder with an 8.3 percent stake worth around US$10.3 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

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Tan was speaking a day after Ping An reported a 3.9 percent rise in first-half net profit, the first increase for the period in three years.