UBS Group AG apologised for comments from its global chief economist 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."
"We apologise 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."
Western companies are seeing relations with China increasingly strained at times, as the trade war with the US 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."
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 $9.53m, according to a company filing.
Donovan reiterated his apology on Bloomberg TV, saying he "got it wrong.""I made a mistake and I unwittingly used culturally insensitive language," he said in an interview with Francine Lacqua. "I apologize publicly for that."