Japan’s Prime Minister Visits Ukraine


Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan made an unexpected visit to Kyiv today, expressing support for Ukraine and reaffirming Japan’s solidarity with the United States and other nations in denouncing Russian aggression as the conflict enters its second year. Kishida traveled to Kyiv by train from Poland after concluding his visit to India. As the current chair of the G7, Kishida became the last representative of the group to meet with President Zelensky in person. The timing of Kishida’s arrival in Kyiv coincides with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia, where he expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, highlighting a widening rift over the war and its implications for the global order.

How Kishida’s Visit Came About

During a virtual meeting in January, President Zelensky invited Kishida to visit Ukraine. Subsequently, Zelensky called on Japan and other G7 members for continued support during a virtual session hosted by Kishida and the other G7 leaders in February, marking the one-year anniversary of the war. Kishida’s planned visit to India provided an opportunity for a stopover in Ukraine, and to maintain secrecy, the Japanese government bypassed domestic requirements that publicized plans for international travel. Reports suggest that Kishida paid his respects to the fallen at a church in Bucha, outside Kyiv, and he is scheduled to meet with President Zelensky before conferring with his Polish counterpart on Wednesday before returning to Japan.

The Objectives of the Visit

Kishida’s visit aims to represent not only the G7, which will convene in Hiroshima for an annual summit hosted by Japan in May but also to demonstrate Japan’s determination to support Ukraine and oppose Russia’s attempt to change the status quo through force. Tokyo perceives the principle of upholding the international rules-based order as vital, particularly in the face of Chinese coercion in Asia. Kishida promptly condemned Russia’s invasion last year and joined the United States and other countries in imposing significant financial sanctions, export controls, and other punitive measures on Russia. Japan has contributed over $7 billion in aid to Ukraine, including nonlethal military equipment and humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Kishida may announce further support for reconstruction during his visit. Kishida’s entry into a war zone as Japan’s first postwar leader underscores the country’s unwavering commitment to defending the global order, which Russia seeks to disrupt with apparent support from China, as evidenced by Xi’s state visit to Moscow.

Broader Strategic Implications

Traditionally, Japan’s strategy towards Russia focused on robust diplomacy to distance it from China and resolve a longstanding territorial dispute. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a swift shift in Japan’s approach, driven in part by concerns about the lessons Beijing could draw from Moscow’s use of force. Kishida has been a forceful advocate for the belief that the rules-based international order is indivisible and that like-minded states have a stake in upholding it wherever challenges arise. Last year, Kishida stated, “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow,” emphasizing the potential regional consequences of the Russian invasion amid persistent concerns about Chinese coercion in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and across the Taiwan Strait. Japan introduced a new defense strategy in December centered on acquiring advanced capabilities to enhance deterrence, while also seeking to stabilize relations and maintain economic ties with Beijing. The juxtaposition of Kishida’s visit to Kyiv with the Xi-Putin summit illustrates the growing difficulty of maintaining the delicate balance at the core of Japan’s strategy towards China if Xi continues to support Putin in widening the divide with the West and reshaping the strategic landscape in Europe and Asia.

Japan’s Diplomatic Weight

Kishida’s visit to Kyiv represents more than symbolic support for Ukraine. Japan has been at the forefront of condemning Russian aggression from the outset, and Kishida is reinforcing Japan’s commitment to defend the global order. As the host of the upcoming G7 summit, Kishida will undoubtedly leverage his position to garner further support for Ukraine and the norms and principles upheld by Japan and other like-minded countries.

Christopher Johnstone, a senior advisor and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., along with Nicholas Szechenyi, a senior fellow with the Japan Chair and deputy director for Asia at CSIS, contributed to this article.

Related Posts

© 2024 themedipia - WordPress Theme by WPEnjoy