China syndromeChina Used Vaccines, Trade to Get Ukraine to Drop Support for Xinjiang Scrutiny

By Yevhen Solonyna and Reid Standish

Published 29 July 2021

On 22 June, Ukraine signed a UN-sponsored document, along with more than 40 other countries, calling for China to allow independent observers immediate access to Xinjiang, where Beijing is operating a camp system that UN officials estimate has interned more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities. Two days later, Ukraine withdrew its signature after China threatened to limit trade with Ukraine and withhold Ukrainian access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Ukraine succumbed to Chinese pressure to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang region by threatening to limit trade and withhold access to COVID-19 vaccines, Ukrainian officials and lawmakers with knowledge of the issue told RFE/RL.

After initially joining with more than 40 other countries on 22 June, Kyiv withdrew its signature two days later from a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that called for China to allow independent observers immediate access to Xinjiang, where Beijing is operating a camp system that UN officials estimate has interned more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities.

The incident was first reported by AP last month citing Western diplomats speaking anonymously. RFE/RL has since spoken to three Ukrainian lawmakers and a senior government official who confirmed the report and provided new details.

Andriy Sharaskin, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the opposition Voice party who sits on parliament’s Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation Committee, told RFE/RL that Ukraine gave in to strong diplomatic pressure from China to withdraw its signature from the statement.

“[The Chinese Foreign Ministry] demanded that Ukraine withdraw its signature from the international statement on Uyghurs,” Sharaskin said. “This [pressure] continued until the signature was revoked.”

A senior Ukrainian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, also confirmed this version of events to RFE/RL.

The official said China’s Foreign Ministry blocked export documents for Chinese vaccines and that Beijing officials “hinted at the reason” for the shots being withheld. As soon as Kyiv withdrew its signature from the statement, he said, the documents were processed and Ukraine received its expected batch of Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines.

Maria Ionova, a member of parliament from the European Solidarity party who chairs a subcommittee on Ukraine’s strategic course for European Union and NATO membership, and Solomiya Bobrovska, an opposition Ukrainian lawmaker who serves as secretary for parliament’s foreign policy committee, told RFE/RL that Chinese pressure led to Ukraine removing its signature from the statement calling for greater scrutiny of alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration did not respond to RFE/RL requests for comment.

Oleksandr Merezhko, a lawmaker from the majority Servant of the People party who chairs Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on foreign policy, told RFE/RL he was not aware of any overt pressure or demands placed on Kyiv by Beijing.

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