UBS Apologizes for ‘Chinese Pig’ Comment Amid Public Furor
(Bloomberg) — UBS Group AG and its top economist apologized for comments published on Wednesday that made reference to a “Chinese pig” and drew criticism on social media as well as from a state-run newspaper.The Zurich-based bank said the remarks in Paul Donovan’s UBS Morning Audio Comment, were “innocently intended.” Donovan was speaking in reference to the rise in Chinese consumer prices that were mainly due to sick pigs. “Does this matter?” he said. “It matters if you are a Chinese pig. It matters if you like eating pork in China.”
“I made a mistake and I unwittingly used hugely culturally-insensitive language,” Donovan said in a Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua on Thursday, saying his remarks were not intended to offend. “I apologize publicly for that.”
Western companies are seeing relations with China increasingly strained at times, as the trade war with the U.S. escalates tensions. Last year, Dolce & Gabbana postponed a runway show in Shanghai after a series of videos featuring a Chinese model awkwardly attempting to eat cannoli, pizza, and other Italian foods with chopsticks caused outrage. Messages by co-founder Stefano Gabbana insulting Chinese people and defending the video provoked a social media firestorm.
Donovan’s remarks sparked outrage on social media sites in China, with users saying the comment humiliated Chinese people. At least three public accounts published articles about the report on WeChat, drawing more than 10,000 hits. Screen grabs of the report also circulated on chat groups. Some users posted a link to a UBS web page for filing complaints.
State-run Global Times tweeted “UBS chief global economist Paul Donovan used distasteful and racist language to analyze China’s inflation in a recent UBS report.”
“We apologize unreservedly for any misunderstanding caused by these innocently intended comments,” the bank said in an emailed statement. “We have removed the audio comment from circulation. To be clear, this comment was about inflation and Chinese consumer prices rising, which was driven by higher prices for pork.”
UBS has had a presence in China longer than most Wall Street firms, and the bank was the first foreign business to receive approval for a majority stake in a local securities venture under the country’s recent financial opening push. Last year its China operations reported a net loss of 65.9 million yuan ($9.53 million), according to a company filing.
The bank has also been hiring more senior executives at the joint venture. Shen Dehua, most recently investment banking head of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Qianhai securities venture, joined UBS Securities Co. as vice chairman for Asia, people with knowledge of the matter said last month, asking not to be named as the appointment hasn’t been announced. The UBS joint venture also hired Eric Zhang from a private equity arm of China Merchants Bank Co. to run its Shanghai office, according to the people.