WASHINGTON – Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya triggered a backlash on social media after saying during a recent episode of his podcast that “nobody cares” about the ongoing human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China.
During a 90-minute episode, Palihapitiya told co-host Jason Calacanis on their “All-In” podcast that he would be lying if he said that he cared about the Uyghurs, an ethnic Muslim minority in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.
“Every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs, I’m really just lying if I don’t really care. And so, I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth, it’s not a priority for me,” said Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist who reports say owns as much as 10% of the NBA team the Golden State Warriors. However, an NBA source familiar says Palihapitiya owns around 2%. Palihapitiya did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the investment discrepancy.
The team wrote in a statement on Twitter Monday that Palihapitiya “does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization.” The Golden State Warriors’ statement did not mention the Uyghurs or China.
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Calacanis and Palihapitiya began talking about the Uyghurs when Calacanis praised President Joe Biden’s foreign policy approach to China.
The Biden administration has described the abuse of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the region as “widespread, state-sponsored forced labor” and “mass detention.” The Biden administration has also warned businesses with supply chain and investment ties to Xinjiang that they could face legal consequences.
In July, that warning manifested as a joint advisory from the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Labor, along with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The most-pointed line from the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory states that “businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law.”
The Chinese government has previously denied any wrongdoing or human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
About 15 minutes into the podcast, Calacanis pointed to the Biden administration’s steps to curb and address China’s sweeping human rights abuses when the following conversation ensued:
Calacanis: His [President Biden’s] China policy, the fact that he came out with a statement on the Uyghurs, I thought it was very strong.
You know, it’s one of the stronger things he did, but it’s not coming Up in the polls.
Calacanis: What? What do you mean nobody cares?
Palihapitiya: The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard truth.
Calacanis: Wait, you personally don’t care?
Palihapitiya went on to say that he cared about supply chain issues, climate change, America’s crippled health-care system as well as the potential economic fallout of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
He later clarified his remarks in a Monday evening tweet, saying he recognizes that he came across as “lacking empathy.”
“As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own set of human rights issues so this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience,” said Palihapitiya, who was born in Sri Lanka. “To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. Full stop.”
Last month, the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
Governments, civil society groups and United Nations officials have previously expressed concern over Beijing’s harsh measures of repressing those who criticize the Chinese Communist Party.
The following story has been updated with additional reporting from an NBA source familiar with Palihapitiya’s investment.