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Warriors investor faces backlash for saying 'nobody cares' about China's Uyghurs

The Golden State Warriors said Chamath Palihapitiya "does not speak on behalf of our franchise."
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Chamath Palihapitiya on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 28, 2019. Palihapitiya has said he acknowledges that his comments came across as "lacking empathy."Michael Nagle / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The Golden State Warriors appeared to distance themselves on Monday from part-owner Chamath Palihapitiya after he faced backlash for saying "nobody cares" about human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China during a recent episode of his podcast.

During the 90-minute episode of the "All-In" podcast, which aired on Jan. 15, Palihapitiya told co-host Jason Calacanis that he would be "lying" if he said he cared about abuses against Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

“Every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs, I’m really just lying if I don’t really care," Palihapitiya, a billionaire investor who owns 10 percent of the Warriors franchise, said during his podcast. "And so, I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth: It’s not a priority for me."

United Nations experts and human rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in Xinjiang, with allegations of forced labor and other abuses sparking international outcry.

The U.S. labeled China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang as genocide in January 2021. The White House previously announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics in February, citing China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”

China has denied such accusations, with the issue becoming a major source of tension between Western governments and Beijing in recent years.

Palihapitiya's comments came as he and his co-host launched into a discussion about the Uyghurs after Calacanis praised President Joe Biden's foreign policy stance on China.

"His (Biden’s) China policy, the fact that he came out with a statement on the Uyghurs, I thought it was very strong," Calacanis had said. "You know, it’s one of the stronger things he did, but it’s not coming up in the polls."

"Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK?" Palihapitiya. "You bring it up because you really care. And I think that’s nice that you care. The rest of us don't care."

Asked by his co-host to expand on what he meant, the billionaire said: "I'm telling you a very hard ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, yes it is below my line."

Calacanis called his co-host's comments "disappointing" — a sentiment that many on social media appeared to share, with Palihapitiya facing widespread condemnation on Twitter.

"When genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen. Shame!" Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom said in a tweet, sharing video of the podcast exchange.

“Such a sad comment from someone who came to North America as a refugee from war-torn Sri Lanka — to have lost empathy for those suffering in the Global South,” journalist Melissa Chan wrote, noting that Palihapitiya moved to Canada as a refugee during his childhood before later moving to the U.S.

In a statement on Monday, the Golden State Warriors said that “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.”

Responding to the backlash in a tweet on Monday, Palihapitiya said that after listening back on the episode, he recognized that he came "across as lacking empathy."

"I acknowledge that entirely," he said. "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."

"To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States or elsewhere. Full stop," he said.

Palihapitiya did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.