China Threatens to Withhold Vaccines, Force Ukraine to Withdraw from Xinjiang Human Rights Statement

Western diplomatic officials told The Associated Press on Friday that China had pressured Ukraine to withdraw from a statement supporting enhanced investigations into human rights in Xinjiang or else it would detain Chinese-made vaccines scheduled to be shipped to the country.

On June 22, more than 40 countries led by Canada submitted a joint statement at the U.N. Human Rights Council calling on China to immediately open access to independent observers to investigate the human rights situation in Xinjiang, a statement Ukraine briefly joined but then withdrew from on Thursday, according to Deutsche Welle on June 26.

Diplomats from two Western countries told The Associated Press that Ukraine withdrew from the statement because China threatened to withhold at least 500,000 doses of Chinese vaccines that were scheduled to be delivered to Ukraine. Diplomatic officials with knowledge of the matter would not be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Ukraine has agreed to buy 1.9 million doses of CoronaVac, a new crown vaccine made by China’s Kexing Holdings Biotechnology Co. In early May, Ukrainian Health Minister Maxim Stepanov said he had received 1.2 million doses of the vaccine.

The Chinese government has in the past pressured other countries in the diplomatic circle in Geneva or in other capitals to support statements issued by China or urged others not to support statements that criticize, question or seek to investigate human rights in China.

But this time, diplomatic officials said, China’s pressure on Ukraine signals that Beijing is stepping up its efforts to counter criticism of its human rights record in an effort to reduce international attention to its human rights, even at the cost of people’s health and lives. One of the Western diplomats revealed that Kiev was under extreme pressure and was told by the Ukrainian delegation the night before that they had to withdraw.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, the Chinese Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, and the Ukrainian authorities have yet to respond to the matter.