China responded angrily on June 26 to accusations that Beijing pressured Ukraine into withdrawing its support for greater scrutiny of Chinese actions in Xinjiang by threatening to withhold COVID-19 vaccine shipments.
The Associated Press quoted multiple diplomats a day earlier as saying Ukraine took its name off a joint statement with more than 40 countries at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, after the Chinese issued their ultimatum to Kyiv.
The joint statement, presented by Canada on June 22, urged Beijing to give immediate access to independent observers in Xinjiang, in northwestern China, where foreign governments and rights groups say officials have rounded up and interned at least 1 million Uyghurs and other indigenous groups.
Kyiv seemingly withdrew its support on June 24 after Beijing warned the Ukrainians it would block a scheduled shipment of at least 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, AP quoted two unnamed Western diplomats as saying.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry was not initially available on June 26 to confirm whether Kyiv had indeed pulled out of the Geneva statement, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
Oleksandr Merezhko, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation, called the reports "unofficial information" and questioned who the "diplomatic sources" were.
"As for the committee, we have not yet received any information [confirming] that," Merezhko said.
"China’s provision of vaccines and anti-epidemic materials to other countries is not meant to gain benefits from other countries and there isn't any geopolitical purpose nor any political conditions attached," AP quoted a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying on June 26.
Ukraine had received around 1.2 million doses of Chinese Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccine by early May, according to then-Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov, well below the 1.9 million it had ordered.
Stepanov was replaced by a deputy health minister, Viktor Lyashko, last month for allegedly having failed to import enough vaccines.
Ukraine is among the countries worst-affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and only around 2.4 million doses of vaccine have been administered among a population of 41 million.
AP quoted one of the Western diplomats calling the ultimatum to Kyiv a sign of "bare-knuckles" diplomacy by China, while the other cited "reports of significant pressure in Kyiv," adding, "last night the delegation told us they needed to pull out."
The agency said the Chinese Foreign Ministry also responded by saying, "we haven’t heard that Ukraine has encountered any difficulty in importing vaccines from China."
AP reported that the ministry statement "did not directly address the specific charge."
Some governments, including the United States', have accused Beijing of "egregious" rights violations and "genocide" against Uyghurs.
The Chinese government has consistently dismissed the allegations of mistreatment, saying camps that it initially denied but now claims are closed were vocational teaching centers that helped counter extremism.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this week that she hoped she could visit Xinjiang this year and be given "meaningful access," amid what she called continued "reports of serious human rights violations" there.