UBS apologises as "Chinese pig" remarks spark online outrage

An unfortunately worded comment referencing pigs made by a chief economist at UBS Group has sparked online criticism in China, with some practitioners in the financial community calling for a boycott.

This snafu - the latest in a series of increasingly bizarre outrage breakouts from China - stems from an opinion UBS global chief economist Paul Donovan gave on a podcast, that higher consumer prices due to an epidemic among pigs would matter to Chinese pigs and consumers alike.

Donovan's specific words on the matter were: “Does it matter? It matters if you are a Chinese pig. It matters if you like eating pork in China."

However, Donovan's phrasing and use of the term "Chinese pig" caused anger among Chinese finance professionals. Chinese state media The Global Times also criticised the use of language. Reuters reported that a portfolio manager investing in commodities and equities has already threatened to boycott the bank, mentioning that there were a lot of other banks to choose from. Another client has also requested that Donovan step down.

To appease this collective anger, UBS apologised for Donovan's comments and in a statement to Reuters, provided some clarification.

“We apologise unreservedly for any misunderstanding caused by these innocently intended comments by Donovan. 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.”

On Thursday afternoon, Donovan issued his own formal apology on his daily audio commentary. In addition, a transcript of the podcast that had originally been posted on UBS’s official website was later taken down.

Currently, China has seen a massive spread of African swine fever (ASF) among its pig livestock. 120 outbreaks have been reported in the country since it was first detected in last August. In Hong Kong, a single case of the virus was detected in a pig imported from Guangdong province. And though the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety has stated that eating pork contaminated with ASF bears no risk of transferal to humans, worries continue to spread about China's pork industry. The long-term practice of using antibiotics to promote growth in pig farms has previously caused international concern, including the potential for diseases to become resistant or more mutable.