Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Kyiv, attracting some of the attention of Asian rival Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. in Moscow.
Kishida, who will chair the Group of Seven summit in May, met President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday during a visit to Kyiv and paid tribute to those killed in Buchaa city outside kyiv that has become a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians.
The two visits, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) apart, highlighted the repercussions of the nearly 13-month war on international diplomacy as countries line up behind Moscow or Kiev.
Zelenskyy called Kishida “a powerful defender of the international order” and “a longtime friend of Ukraine”.
“I am happy to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv – a truly powerful defender of the international order and a long-time friend of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said on social media.
He also confirmed that he would attend the upcoming G7 summit via video link.
“I have accepted the prime minister’s invitation and will attend the G7 summit in Hiroshima in an online format,” Zelenskyy said at a joint press conference.
formula of peace
As Putin welcomed the Chinese Xi in Moscow, Zelenskyy said that he had “offered China to become a partner in the implementation of the formula of peace.”
“We transmitted our formula on all channels. We invite you to dialogue. We are waiting for your response,” Zelenskyy told a news conference, adding that Kyiv has yet to receive a response.
Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Kyiv, said Japan and China are on opposite ends of the political spectrum when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
“Japan has always supported Ukraine with humanitarian needs but not militarily because that goes against its pacifist charge,” Dekker said.
Kishida, the only G7 leader not to visit Ukraine, was under domestic pressure to do so. He became the first post-war Japanese leader to enter a war zone since World War II.
Due to its pacifist stance, Japan’s support to Ukraine has been limited to non-lethal equipment and humanitarian supplies. It has given over $7 billion to Ukraine and taken in more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians, despite its strict immigration policy.
Tokyo has also joined the United States and European nations in sanctioning Russia over the invasion.
A growing international divide
China instead refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and Washington of provoking Putin’s military action.
“Zelensky has been saying for some time that Ukraine is ready to talk to China [but] I don’t think we will see the Chinese president coming to Kyiv,” Dekker said.
But Xi Jinping is likely to make a call with the Ukrainian leader to report on what was said during the visit to Moscow, the journalist added.
David Boling, an analyst with Eurasia Group, told Al Jazeera that Kishida’s visit had been an “open secret” for some time, but was still very important.
“The real story here is China. Japan is taking these steps because of China’s aggressiveness in the region and signaling that it will back down,” Boling said.
The analyst added that the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Ukraine took place on the same day as the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow may have been a coincidence, but it was nevertheless a signal of the growing international divide.
Kishida recently met with leaders from South Korea, Germany and India in a bid to deepen ties.
“I think what you see is a different Japan,” Boling said. “Ten or 20 years ago, Japan was prepared to stay out of the geopolitical game, but now [they] I want to have some influence in this game because the stakes are too high.