The world may not yet be divided into two opposing blocs like it was during the Cold War, but the case of Ukraine, Australia and Canada over the Uygurs in Xinjiang may offer a foretaste of a divided world to come. Last month, Ukraine began as one of more than 40 countries, led by Canada and including Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the United States, to urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to ask China to grant immediate access to the semi-autonomous region to probe allegations of mistreatment of the Uygurs and other Muslim minority groups. Ukraine then did an abrupt U-turn and withdrew its signature of support. Some news reports at the time claimed Chinese vaccine diplomacy was responsible. But, according to a well-informed senior diplomat I interviewed, the country had enough vaccine supply. Mostly likely, said the diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous, trade and politics had far more to do with the reversal. “Statistics show the Ukrainian government is not experiencing a vaccine shortage,” the diplomat said. “Indeed, this year Ukraine received about 5 million doses of different vaccines, but only about half was used.” More than 40 countries call on China to give UN access to Xinjiang Based on surveys and social media reports, vaccine hesitancy is partly to blame. “Ukrainians simply do not have a desire to get vaccinated. It looks like they are counting on their strong immunity and believe that the pandemic will soon be defeated,” the diplomat said. “Given that Ukraine now has some 2.5 million doses of vaccine and relies on the promises from the United States for new large volumes of supplies, it seems unlikely that Beijing could blackmail Kyiv with its 0.5 million doses.” But the rapid development of the trade relations between China and Ukraine may be a more serious factor. Bilateral trade between the two countries has been growing for five years in a row, thanks to which Beijing in 2019 and 2020 became the country’s largest trade partner. Last year, exports from Ukraine to China amounted to US$7.11 billion, accounting for 13.3 per cent of all Ukrainian exports. “We know very well that for the Chinese government, the political and economic spheres are tightly intertwined and that problems in political relations cause problems in trade cooperation,” the diplomat said. Ukraine U-turn on rights ‘linked to jab supplies’ The Chinese market is critically important for Ukraine, which has had to abandon the Russian market following the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea. Politically, it is equally important for Kyiv to maintain Beijing’s stance and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The diplomat said: “This position looks obvious for Beijing, which has an extremely negative attitude towards all manifestations of separatism. And this position leaves the Russian Federation face-to-face with Western sanctions. “But if Ukraine joined Canada’s statement on Xinjiang , China could lift the ban on doing business with Crimea [which is in the Kremlin’s interests].” Ukraine, obviously, has no interest in worsening its relations with China and bringing Beijing and Moscow closer. China, Ukraine agree to work together on roads, bridges and railways Maintaining balance and non-interference in the internal affairs of the two countries is mutually important for China and Ukraine. The diplomat therefore concludes that it was a mistake to join the anti-Beijing statement at the UN. It’s fascinating how the China trade is primary to the exports of countries such as Ukraine and Australia, yet the two have very different responses to China in general and to the Xinjiang row in particular. For relatively non-aligned nations such as Ukraine, it makes sense to pursue pragmatic policy and realpolitik. But for entrenched ideological and military allies, trade must take a back seat, even if that means paying a steep economic cost. Beijing’s practical win-win policy works best with other like-minded countries. Those are nearly 100 countries that supported Beijing against the Xinjiang statement at the UN. But, if such international tendencies persist, the world will divide into even more clear-cut blocs, and countries such as Ukraine will be increasingly under pressure to take a side.