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Big shock: Guy who fled political violence and became rich in tech now struggles to care about political violence

'I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy,' billionaire VC admits

Billionaire tech investor and ex-Facebook senior executive Chamath Palihapitiya was publicly blasted after he said nobody really cares about the reported human rights abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China.

The blunt comments were made during the latest episode of All-In, a podcast in which Palihapitiya chats to investors and entrepreneurs Jason Calacanis, David Sacks, and David Friedberg about technology.

The group were debating the Biden administration’s response to what's said to be China's crackdown of Uyghur Muslims when Palihapitiya interrupted and said: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, okay? ... I’m telling you a very hard ugly truth, okay? Of all the things that I care about … yes, it is below my line.”

You can watch the full episode below (skip to 14:58 to hear Palihapitiya’s comments.)

Youtube Video

The CEO and founder of VC firm Social Capital goes on to clarify that he cares more about the US economy, the threat of China invading Taiwan, and climate change.

“Do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country? Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us,” Palihapitiya added. He was later heavily criticized on social media with netizens pointing out he fled to Canada as a child with his parents as refugees to escape political violence in Sri Lanka.

Palihapitiya made a fortune after studying electronic engineering, landing a job in Silicon Valley at Facebook during its second year, and then getting into venture capital. His investment firm has plowed money into startups in climate, education, tech, and more – including Slack and Yammer.

“In re-listening to this week’s podcast, I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy,” he said in a statement yesterday.

"I acknowledge that entirely. As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own human rights issues so this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience. To be clear, my belief is that humans rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere. Full stop."

Many wondered whether his stake in The Golden State Warriors (GSW) played a role in his misjudged comments. Palihapitiya owns 10 per cent of the basketball team and the National Basketball Association (NBA) has a thorny relationship with China. Players and executives often remain tight-lipped and refrain from speaking out against the Chinese government over fears that the NBA could lose out on fans and lucrative sponsorship deals by upsetting the Middle Kingdom.

Daryl Morey, president of basketball operations of the Philadelphia 76ers team, for example, apologized when he tweeted in support of protests in Hong Kong in 2019. Tencent, one of China’s largest tech companies, pulled the broadcast of a basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks last year after the Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom called China’s President Xi Jinping a dictator and said Tibet should be a free country.

The GSW, however, distanced itself from co-owner Palihapitiya’s remarks. “As a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating 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,” its official PR team said in a statement. ®

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