Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a surprise visit to Ukraine on Tuesday morning, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in neighboring Russia for a three-day stay. The parallel summits were held in the midst of the diplomatic offensives of the former rivals.
Kishida had planned to meet in the Ukrainian capital with the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The president “will express respect for the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people, who stand up to defend their homeland under the leadership of President Zelenskyy, and will show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as Japan’s leader and G-7 chairman” during his visit, according to what the Japanese Foreign Ministry said when announcing the trip to Kiev.
At the meetings, Kishida will show his “absolute rejection of Russia’s unilateral change of the status quo by invasion and force, and affirm his commitment to upholding the rules-based international order,” the ministerial statement added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Xi to the Kremlin in a meeting the two countries described as an opportunity to deepen their “boundless friendship.”
Japanese public television NTV showed Kishida riding a train from Poland to kyiv. His unannounced trip to Ukraine came just hours after he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and the week after a major summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.
In New Delhi, Kishida called for developing countries and countries in the global south to speak up for the rules-based international order and help stop Russia’s war.
Japan, which has territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is especially concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have held joint military drills off Japan’s shores.
Kishida, who chairs the Group of Seven summit in May, was the only G7 leader not to have visited Ukraine and faced 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 the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Due to the limitations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, their trip was arranged in secret. Kishida is the first post-war Japanese leader to enter a war zone. The president, who was invited by Zelenskyy to visit Kiev in January, received questions before his trip to India about rumors of a possible trip at the end of March, but denied it, saying nothing concrete had been decided.
Japan has joined the United States and European nations in sanctioning Russia for its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine.
Tokyo was quick to react because it worries about the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where the Chinese military is increasingly assertive and has raised tensions around self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.
Kishida was expected to reiterate his continued support for Ukraine in his meeting with Zelenksyy.
NTV television footage showed Kishida boarding a train at the Polish Przemysl station, near the Ukrainian border, with a group of officials.
Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has also been limited to non-combat military equipment such as helmets, body armor and drones, as well as humanitarian supplies such as generators.
Japan has contributed more than $7 billion to Ukraine and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians, assisting them with accommodation and help finding jobs and education, unusual in a country known for its strict immigration policy.
AP writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.