On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Ukraine, coinciding with the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Russia. The two visits are emblematic of the changing nature of the global strategic landscape as it is continually shifted by the consequences of the Ukraine war.
The timing of Kishida’s visit to Kyiv is unlikely to be a coincidence and underlines the importance of the Ukraine war beyond the borders of Europe to a broad range of state actors, including China and Japan – the second and third largest economies in the world, respectively.
During Xi’s second day in Moscow, he and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, reiterated the strong ties between their two countries. Meanwhile, the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit was a show of solidarity from Japan toward Ukraine.
Japanese Prime Minister visits Ukraine
The visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to war-torn Ukraine was only announced in the hours immediately preceding his arrival on Tuesday morning. It is the first time a Japanese leader has visited a country with ongoing hostilities since the Second World War.
Until today, Kishida was the only G7 leader who had not visited Ukraine since Putin launched the invasion in February last year. There was growing pressure from the organization for Kishida to make the visit before he presides over a G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, as well as from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Before the arrival of the Japanese Prime Minister, the country’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that he would “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland… and show solidarity and unwavering support”.
In Ukraine, he was taken to the town of Bucha, where many Ukrainian civilians were killed. Kishida laid a wreath and reportedly said that he felt “outraged by the cruelty”.
Ukraine, which has been highly dependent on foreign support for its war effort against the Russian invasion welcomed the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit as a “sign of solidarity”.
Although Japan has refrained from supplying Ukraine with military support like much of the West, Tokyo has provided billions in financial assistance and humanitarian aid.
“This historic visit is a sign of solidarity and strong cooperation between Ukraine and Japan. We are grateful to Japan for its strong support and contribution to our future victory,” said Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister.
Xi Jinping’s second day in Moscow
During the Japanese Prime Minister’s surprise visit to Ukraine, the Chinese President was busy on the second day of his diplomatic trip to Russia.
The second day began with discussions between Xi and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin before formal discussions in the Kremlin with Putin.
Xi stressed the strength of the bilateral relationship between Beijing and Moscow and again reiterated that China and Russia are “strategic partners” and “great neighboring powers”. He also invited Putin to visit him in Beijing.
Putin commented on Beijing’s 12-point peace plan, saying that “Many provisions of the Chinese peace plan can be taken as the basis for settling of the conflict in Ukraine, whenever the West and Kyiv are ready for it.”
As the conflict in Ukraine has deepened Russia’s isolation on the world stage, China has acted as a crucial ally, supplying Russia with an economic lifeline to weather the storm of Western sanctions.
Putin was hoping to further strengthen this lifeline during Xi’s visit by persuading his Chinese counterpart to sign off on the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline which would supply China via Mongolia.
Earlier today, the Russian President spoke as if a deal had already been reached, commenting, “practically all the parameters of that agreement have been finalized”.
However, Xi was much vaguer, only saying that the two countries would “make efforts to advance work on studying and agreeing” on proposals to construct the pipeline.
Strategic implications for China and Japan
The visits by the Chinese and Japanese leaders to the two opposing capitals demonstrate that the war in Ukraine has consequences that reach beyond the immediate confines of the European security order.
Just a month ago, a security dialogue was held in Tokyo between Japanese and Chinese officials. They were the first formal talks of their kind in four years.
Bilateral relations between Beijing and Tokyo have become increasingly strained in recent years. China has expressed displeasure over Japan’s military buildup, whereas Japan has been critical of China’s cooperation with Russia and alleged use of spy balloons.
A set of disputed islands in the East China Sea also continues to drive a wedge between the two nations. The Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands
For Japan, the war in Ukraine is seen as a possible parallel to a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the future. An invasion could plunge the East Asian region into conflict and threaten Japan’s most basic security interests.