China says no strings attached to vaccine shipments overseas

BEIJING (AP) — China said Saturday that it provides vaccines to other countries with no political conditions attached, responding to a story by The Associated Press saying China pressured Ukraine into withdrawing from a multi-country statement on human rights in China’s Xinjiang region by threatening to withhold a COVID-19 vaccine shipment.

A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it welcomed Ukraine’s decision to take its name off the statement at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, adding “we haven’t heard that Ukraine has encountered any difficulty in importing vaccines from China.”

The Associated Press, citing diplomats from two Western countries, reported that Ukraine had pulled its name from the statement Thursday after China warned it would block a planned shipment of at least 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines unless it did so. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

China’s written response to AP did not directly address the specific charge, but 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.”

Ukraine had briefly joined the statement by over 40 countries presented by Canada at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday. The statement urged China to allow immediate access for independent observers to Xinjiang, where human rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the region.

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