Professional investor and loudmouth Chamath Palihapitiya admitted that he came across as uncompassionate, at best, when he said on his most recent podcast that he did not care about the genocide of the Uyghurs in China.
“In re-listening to this week’s podcast, I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy,” he tweeted Monday. “To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States or elsewhere.”
Palihapitiya, a part-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, also attempted to argue that he was in a position to relate to the struggle of the Uyghur people, as he had received refugee status as a young child when his family escaped Sri Lanka for Canada. “So this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience,” he said.
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The clarification came after Palihapitiya told Jason Calacanis, a fellow investor and one of Palihapitiya’s co-hosts on the “All-In” podcast, that the “hard, ugly truth” was that “nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs” and that, of all the issues he cares about, “it is below my line,” which he said twice for emphasis. Calacanis had been complementing President Joe Biden’s recent statements on the crisis in China.
“I think that’s really nice that you care,” Palihapitiya said. “The rest of us don’t care.”
Palihapitiya then said that he cared more about domestic supply-chain issues, the potential economic effect of China invading Taiwan, climate change, and the U.S. healthcare system.
“Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us,” Palihapitiya then said. “I think a lot of people believe that and I’m sorry if that’s a hard truth to hear, but every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs, I’m really just lying if I don’t really care. So I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth: It’s not a priority for me.”
Palihapitiya has become something of a cult figure over the last year. An early Facebook employee, Palihapitiya has since developed into a critic of the social media giants, the face of the SPAC boom, and an early supporter of the Reddit community WallStreetBets’s fight with traditional investors. He even started a California gubernatorial campaign.
Most of all, Palihapitiya has made a name for himself as a rich man who speaks his mind, this time to his detriment.
The comments, originally published Friday, were followed by swift and intense national blowback over the weekend. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said Palihapitiya had proven he was “okay with genocide” as long as he “can make a buck from the Chinese Communist Party.” Enes Kanter Freedom of the Boston Celtics, an advocate who has urged Congress to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, said Palihapitiya had sold his “soul for money.” By Sunday, Warriors PR had released a statement distancing themselves from Palihapitiya, saying he was a “limited investor” with “no day-to-day” role. “Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization,” the team added.
Calacanis, Palihapitiya’s co-host, seemed to imply the comment had thrown Palihapitiya “under the bus,” comparing the team’s reaction to the NBA’s after Philadelphia 76ers President Daryl Morey, then with the Houston Rockets, published a tweet in support of the people of Hong Kong in 2019. (Notably, in that case, Morey’s stance stood in opposition to the Chinese government.) “Let's not attack each other — let’s speak with one voice for human rights, right now, for all humans!” Calacanis wrote. Calacanis also said Palihapitiya’s comments had been distorted and mischaracterized in a way that was making “it harder for us to have this nuanced discussion.” (They hadn’t.)
The U.S. and others have accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, where researchers and human rights group say the country is sentencing hundreds of thousands mostly Muslim Uyghurs to years in internment camps. Allegations of forced labor, sterilization, torture, and sexual abuse have arisen, but China has denied the charges, saying it has created re-education camps in an attempt to combat religious extremism.
The Biden administration, which has described the abuse as “widespread, state-sponsored forced labor” and “mass detention,” has announced the country will diplomatically boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in China due to “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”