A previous version of this article misstated part of Chamath Palihapitiya's quote about America's health-care infrastructure. He called it "crippling," not "crumbling." The article also incorrectly stated Palihapitiya's ownership stake in the Golden State Warriors. It is approximately 2 percent. This version has been corrected.
“Of all the things that I care about — yes, it is below my line,” the venture capitalist and part owner of the Golden State Warriors basketball team said. Palihapitiya’s remarks drew swift backlash from critics, who called his comments insensitive.
Scholars estimate that the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and placed them in reeducation camps to try to assimilate the mostly Muslim minority that is native to the northwest Xinjiang region, The Washington Post reported. Since 2017, Uyghurs have been sent to the camps for wearing headscarves or long beards, or for traveling outside the country.
Enes Kanter Freedom, a center for the Boston Celtics and a critic of China’s crackdown on Uyghurs, tweeted a clip of Palihapitiya’s comments. “Shame!” Freedom wrote.
The Golden State Warriors franchise distanced itself from Palihapitiya’s comments, saying in a statement posted on Twitter: “As a limited investor who has no day-to-day functions with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don’t reflect those of our organization.”
On Monday, Palihapitiya said in a statement posted on Twitter that he reviewed his remarks and “recognize that I come 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,” he added. “To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. Full stop.”
Palihapitiya has spoken about how his family fled Sri Lanka amid civil unrest, and moved to Canada when he was 6, the New Yorker reported in a profile of the venture capitalist.
An early manager at Facebook, Palihapitiya has since become the CEO of the investment firm Social Capital and the chairman of Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company. He has also been a leading promoter of SPACs, or so-called blank check companies, which allow investors to take a business public without the regulatory scrutiny of a traditional initial public offering, the New Yorker reported.
Palihapitiya joined the Warriors’ ownership group in 2011, about a year after Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team for $450 million, the San Francisco Business Times reported. Palihapitiya has an approximately 2 percent stake in the team, according to an NBA official familiar with the Warriors’ ownership structure.
Palihapitiya’s comments come as the United States has taken increasingly strong measures against China amid its continued repression of the Uyghurs. Before declaring that China had committed genocide against the ethnic group, the Trump administration issued a ban on cotton and tomato imports produced in the Xinjiang region, The Post reported.
In November, President Biden said he was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, a measure that would allow U.S. athletes to compete in the Games but bar government officials from attending, The Post reported. Biden followed that move in December by signing a bipartisan law that bans all imports from Xinjiang unless importers can prove the products were not made using forced labor.
On Saturday’s podcast, Palihapitiya said some issues important to him included climate change and “America’s crippling and decrepit health-care infrastructure.” But when it came to “a segment of a class of people in another country,” such as the Uyghurs, he said, “not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us.”
“I’m sorry if that’s a hard truth to hear,” he added. “But 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.”