China Threatens to Block COVID Shots for Ukraine Over Its Support of Xinjiang Investigation

China threatened to block COVID-19 vaccines from reaching their destination in Ukraine after it supported the investigation on the Xinjiang region, the Associated Press reported.

Ukraine had briefly joined over 40 other countries in urging China to allow immediate access for independence observers to Xinjiang to investigate the alleged mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs and others in the area.

Ukraine pulled its name on Thursday once China threatened to block the shipment of at least 500,000 doses of vaccines and anonymous diplomats spoke with each other.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

'Where are my relatives' sign
A member of the Uyghur community holds a placard as he joins a demonstration to call on the British parliament to vote to recognize alleged persecution of China's Muslim minority Uyghur people as genocide and crimes against humanity in London on April 22. Justin Tallis/Getty Images

Ukraine has agreed to purchase 1.9 million doses of CoronaVac vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech. As of early May, Ukraine had received 1.2 million doses, according to Health Minister Maxim Stepanov.

In the past, China's government has been no stranger to pressuring other countries in Geneva diplomatic circles or in national capitals either to line up behind its statements or avoid backing statements that criticize, question or seek scrutiny of human rights in the country.

But the alleged pressure would mark an escalation of intense recent efforts by Beijing to push back against criticism of its rights record, this time by potentially jeopardizing health—even lives—as a way to minimize international attention to it, the diplomats said.

One of the Western diplomats called it sign of "bare-knuckles" diplomacy by China. The other diplomat cited "reports of significant pressure in Kyiv," adding, "last night the delegation told us they needed to pull out."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and a spokesman for the Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva in did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. Ukrainian authorities did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

The situation could still change. Under the practice of the 47-member council, countries can add their names to statements or resolutions up to two weeks after the end of a session. The current 3 1/2-week session that began Monday runs until July 13.

Canadian Ambassador Leslie Norton said in a statement Tuesday that "credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang." Norton's statement was initially backed by 41 countries and is now supported by 44. Ukraine was briefly country No. 45.

Norton also pointed to "reports of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents by authorities" in China.

Also Tuesday, a Chinese diplomat decried shortcomings in Canada's own rights record, pointing notably to abuses against Indigenous peoples. Belarus read a joint statement—allegedly by 64 countries—speaking out in defense of China's right to manage its own internal affairs such as with Hong Kong or Xinjiang.

A spokesman for the council's secretariat said Belarus had not provided a list of those 64 countries. Belarus' diplomatic mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to an email from the Associated Press seeking a list of those countries.

'China stop killing uyghurs' sign
Members of the Uyghur community hold a placard and the flag adopted by the East Turkestan independence movement as they demonstrate to call on the British parliament to vote to recognize alleged persecution of China's Muslim minority Uyghur people as genocide and crimes against humanity in London on April 22. Justin Tallis/Getty Images