In a recent episode of the podcast “All-In,” Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire venture capitalist, stakeholder of the Golden State Warriors, and Chairman of Virgin Galactic, commented that “nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs… Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.”
Palihapitiya has joined the growing list of wealthy Western elites — including Elon Musk, Ray Dalio, Craig Smith, and more — who have openly turned a blind eye to the suffering of millions of people living under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s repression.
The reason for doing so is simple: to remain in the good graces of the CCP to line their own pockets.
The world is witnessing the Chinese government’s belligerence and disregard for human dignity. In the past several decades, the authoritarian regime has tightened its grip by conducting mass crackdowns on Chinese human rights defenders, spearheading an unprecedented 21st century genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and implementing incessant policing in Tibet and Hong Kong. Despite the regime’s ongoing abysmal human rights record, highly influential entrepreneurs, business tycoons, and elites have all too willingly stayed silent.
Greed and lust for access to the Chinese market have made profit-driven elites eager to acquiesce to the CCP’s authoritarian ideals. When these figures harbor these types of views – and express them so casually on prominent platforms – human rights are in grave danger.
The blatant ignorance of Western elites and billionaires is stunning. Take founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, who brazenly disregarded the testimonies and evidence coming out of Xinjiang about the genocide, and recently opened a Tesla showroom in the region. Similarly, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, has shamelessly fawned over the Chinese government’s mass crackdowns towards achieving “common prosperity,” and even claimed that the United States should follow suit — a stance that has garnered him praise from Chinese state media. Most recently, Craig Smith, CEO of Burton Snowboards’ China subsidiary, showed concerning indifference to the Uyghur genocide; Smith said he has no problem doing business in Xinjiang — even after sharing that he is well-aware of the reports about genocide.
Palihapitiya’s recent brazen remarks are just one example, out of far too many.
Palihapitiya and his fellow tycoons are trained in social combat. Palihapitiya, in response to the resulting backlash, “recognized” he came across “lacking empathy,” citing his personal experience as a refugee and concern for all human rights. The Golden State Warriors subsequently tried to publicly distance themselves from Palihapitiya – while still dancing around using direct verbiage about China and the Uyghur genocide. All too similarly, Dalio took to social media soon after his fumble to admit he “answered sloppily” to questions about China. Elites are quick to undergo damage control – yet the real damage has already been done.
With the power of celebrity and money comes responsibility. Businessmen and elites could undoubtedly make a dent in the CCP’s growing control – just as corporate divestment campaigns did to help bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. These individuals can speak up, but egregiously, they are reluctant and choose not to. Driven instead by financial gain, they uncritically whitewash the Chinese regime’s abuses and in turn, act as agents of influence for Xi Jinping.
They choose money over morals, but you do not have to – and you should not.
Connect with your government officials. Policymakers and legislators need to engage with civil society groups and independent experts to ensure their foreign policies and economic negotiations are not complicit to the Chinese government’s crimes. Call your elected officials to stress their moral and legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill fundamental human rights.
Shop responsibly. There’s a 1 in 5 chance that your clothes are linked to Uyghur forced labor. Consider supporting brands that have publicly committed to ending such forced labor, and urge your favorite brands to disclose not only how products are made but also who makes them.
Support activists. The CCP actively intimidates and pressures brave individuals outside of China who stand up for human rights. Follow them on social media, donate to their campaigns, and support organizations that provide platforms for their activism.
Human rights are not a “luxury belief,” and complicity is not “below [your] line.” As a concerned global citizen, do what you can to stand up to the Chinese regime. We can do better than the billionaires. Full stop.
By Tara Everton and Jenny Wang