Japan, China leaders visit rival capitals in Ukraine war

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s surprise trip to Ukraine comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi

March 21, 2023 08:49 am | Updated 11:21 am IST - Tokyo

File photo of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Mr. Kishida is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home. 

File photo of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Mr. Kishida is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home.  | Photo Credit: AP

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a surprise visit to Ukraine early on March 21, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arriving in neighbouring Russia for a three-day visit. The duelling summits come as the longtime rivals are on diplomatic offensives.

Mr. Kishida will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital.

He will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskyy’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7,” during his visit to Ukraine, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in announcing his trip to Kyiv.

At the talks, Mr. Kishida will show his “absolute rejection of Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force, and to affirm his commitment to defend the rules-based international order,” the ministry’s statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on a visit both nations describe as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship”.

In this handout photo released by Russian Presidential Press Office, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Monday, March 20, 2023.

In this handout photo released by Russian Presidential Press Office, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Monday, March 20, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Japanese public television channel NTV showed Mr. Kishida riding a train from Poland heading to Kyiv. His surprise trip to Ukraine comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, and the week after a breakthrough summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.

In New Delhi, Mr. Kishida called for developing and Global South countries to raise their voices to defend the rules-based international order and help stop Russia’s war.

Japan, which has territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is particularly concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have conducted joint military exercises near Japan’s coasts.

Mr. Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home. US President Joe Biden took a similar route to visit Kyiv last month, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Due to the limitations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, his trip was arranged secretly. Mr. Kishida is Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone. Mr. Kishida, invited by Mr. Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv, was also asked before his trip to India about a rumour of his possible trip at the end of March, denied it and said nothing concrete has been decided.

Japan has joined the United States and European nations in sanctioning Russia over its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine.

Japan was quick to react because it fears the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where China’s military has grown increasingly assertive and has escalated tensions around self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has also been limited to non-combative military equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and drones, and humanitarian supplies including generators.

Japan has contributed more than $7 billion to Ukraine, and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing assistance and support for jobs and education, a rare move in a country that is known for its strict immigration policy.

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