Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Kyiv for a surprise visit Tuesday, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in neighboring Russia on a three-day trip. Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine will be in the spotlight at both meetings.
Footage shown on Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed Kishida walking on the platform of Kyiv Central Station, escorted by a few people who appeared to be Ukrainian officials. The Ukrainian capital has not felt the brunt of the war, which has become bogged down eastern Ukraine.
It was uncertain whether either of the Asian leaders’ visits to Kyiv and Moscow would change the course of the almost 13-month war in Ukraine, but the talks about 800 kilometers (500 miles) apart highlighted the war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind rival parties.
The meetings came after a week in which China and Japan both enjoyed diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.
Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital, coinciding with Xi’s talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Other details of Kishida’s visit were kept under wraps, though he was also due in Poland to meet with President Andrzej Duda before returning to Tokyo on Thursday morning.
Kishida 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, 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.
Putin warmly welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on Monday, starting a three-day visit the two major powers described as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.”
At a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Tuesday, Xi said that he invited Putin to visit China at some point this year to attend a top-level meeting of China’s One Belt, One Road regional initiative, which seeks to extend Beijing’s influence through economic cooperation projects.
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The invitation comes days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, staining his international reputation. Neither Russia nor China recognize the court’s jurisdiction. Nor do the United States or Ukraine.
Moscow and Beijing have both weathered international condemnation of their human rights record. The Chinese government has been widely condemned for alleged atrocities against Uighur Muslims in its far western Xinjiang region. The allegations include genocide, forced sterilization and the mass detention of nearly 1 million Uighurs. Beijing has denied the allegations.
Japanese public television channel NTV showed 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, 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.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s foray into the debate over a war in Europe follows its recent success in brokering a deal between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic ties after years of tensions, showing China’s influence in a region where Washington has long been the major foreign player.
Following that success, Xi said China should play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what both see as U.S. aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair criticism of their human rights records.
Kyiv’s western allies have expressed concern that China might help Russia’s war effort, though Beijing insists it is a neutral broker in peace efforts.
Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesman late on Monday said that Kyiv is not aware of any Chinese arms transfers to Russia so far. Andriy Yusov said on Ukrainian TV that while Beijing has provided some dual-use technology to Moscow, such as semiconductor chips, “there is no talk about weapons so far, and no such (supplies) have been recorded.”
Kishida is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home. U.S. 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 limitations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, his trip was arranged secretly. Kishida is Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone. Kishida, invited by Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv, was also asked before his trip to India about a rumor 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. In contrast, China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
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.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that Beijing’s contacts with Russia will help to bring about peace. “President Putin said that Russia appreciates China’s consistent position of upholding fairness, objectivity and balance on major international issues,” he said. “Russia has carefully studied China’s position paper on the political settlement of the Ukrainian issue, and is open to peace talks.”
Asked about Kishida’s trip to Kyiv, he added, “We hope Japan could do more things to deescalate the situation instead of the opposite.”
Television footage on NTV showed Kishida getting on a train from the Polish station of Przemysl near the border with Ukraine, with a number of officials.
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 US$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.