BANGKOK (AP) — Asia’s stake in Europe’s war was cleared Tuesday as leaders of the region’s two wealthiest countries sat down in the capitals of Russia and Ukraine in strong displays of support for opposing sides.
With the eyes of the world on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first talks in Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a surprise visit to Kiev from the other side of the front.
The visits came as tensions rose between the two regional rivals and major economic powers. China is looking to expand its influence, and Japan has responded by increasing its defense spending and deepening ties with the United States and its allies.
While Xi’s trip is meant to send a message to the West that its efforts to insulate Moscow from invading Ukraine have failed, the simultaneous visit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Kishida, whose country holds the presidency of the Group of the Seven Major Industrial Nations, strongly emphasizes the global character of opposition to war.
“It’s a very pointed statement,” said Euan Graham, a Singapore-based expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“It shows that there is more Asian skin in the game than many people might have thought. … While Xi holds hands with Putin, Kishida shakes the hand of the president: it is a very strong contrast and shows that Ukraine is not only a European or Atlantic concern”.
Kishida’s decision to visit Kiev just as Xi was in Moscow was clearly not a coincidence, and likely intended to lessen any impact the Chinese leader had hoped to have, said Heigo Sato, a Takushoku University professor and defense expert. and security.
“The most important thing is to continue supporting Ukraine, and it was necessary to demonstrate the solidarity of the G-7, with Europe, Japan and the United States working together to provide support,” he said.
Kishida has been among Asia’s most outspoken leaders against the invasion of Ukraine, and Japan has implemented severe sanctions against Russia and provided Ukraine with non-lethal military aid, humanitarian supplies, and financial support.
Due to constitutional restrictions that prohibit Japan from supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine, Sato said Kishida’s trip was “a minimum requirement” for the G-7 presidency.
In a January speech at Johns Hopkins University, Kishida stressed that he believes the conflict has direct implications for world order and pledged to use the G-7 presidency to do what he can to strengthen the response of “countries that they are like-minded.”
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine spelled the complete end of the post-Cold War world,” he said. “It has emerged that globalization and interdependence alone cannot serve as guarantors for peace and development throughout the world.”
Later, in what appeared to be a reference to Beijing’s designs on Taiwan, a self-governed island that China claims as its territory, Kishida said that “China has some visions and claims on the international order that diverge from our own and which we can never accept.”
Kishida’s visit to Moscow came hours after meeting Narendra Modi in New Delhi, where he invited the Indian prime minister to attend the G-7 summit in May. Kishida also announced actions for a new Indo-Pacific initiative meant to counter China’s growing influence.
Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, said in a Twitter post that for countries in the region, the visits highlight “two very different Europe-Pacific partnerships.”
“Prime Minister Kishida stands with freedom and Xi stands with a war criminal,” he wrote. “Which Pacific leader is the right partner for a better future?”
China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, accused Kishida of escalating tensions in Europe.
“The international community should support the position of promoting peace talks and creating situations for the political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing. “We hope Japan can do more to ease the situation instead of the other way around.”
Wang stressed that China has “demanded a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis, opposing the Cold War mentality and opposing unilateral sanctions.”
China and Russia have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “friendship without limits” and in a reading after the first day of talks, China said Xi had “emphasised that there is a profound logic history for China- Relations with Russia to get where they are today”.
China has so far not supplied Russia with military supplies, but has criticized Western sanctions and accused NATO and the United States of provoking the Russian invasion.
The sanctions had the effect of increasing Russia’s dependence on trade with China and bringing the countries closer together.
The Moscow summit has the effect of underlining and reinforcing “Russia’s status as China’s junior partner – economically, militarily and diplomatically,” said Robert Murrett, a retired US vice admiral and professor at Syracuse University.
“Russia has a growing dependence on China due to Moscow’s growing domestic and international challenges, and at the same time, China can derive select benefits from the relationship while continuing to develop a number of other bilateral initiatives on the global stage,” he said in an analyst note.
The symbolism of Xi’s visit to Moscow is enormous, Graham said.
“It’s basically an endorsement of Putin’s invasion and Putin will read it as such,” he said. “And it’s a sign that Russia has China’s backing, at least diplomatically, and probably much more than that behind the table.”
Japan has historically been at odds with both China and Russia, including Russian-controlled islands that the former Soviet Union seized from Japan at the end of WWII, which prevented the two countries from signing a treaty of peace by formally ending their war hostilities.
Because of the sanctions against Russia, Tokyo has suffered reprisals from Moscow, which announced the suspension of talks on a peace treaty that included negotiations on the disputed islands.
Japan, noticing growing threats from China and North Korea, has expanded military cooperation beyond its main ally, the United States, and has developed partnerships with Australia, Britain and other nations in Europe and Southeast Asia .
Last year, Kishida’s government adopted a new national security strategy under which Japan is deploying long-range cruise missiles to bolster its ability to strike back, a major break from the country’s postwar self-defense principle.
While former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has invested time pursuing a relationship with Putin that has yielded no significant gains, Kishida has shown a greater willingness to be critical, Graham said.
But Kishida’s trip to Kiev probably won’t worsen ties between Tokyo and Moscow, he said, adding that it would certainly please Washington.
“Not even Russia wants to put all its eggs into China’s basket, so the idea that Russia is suddenly stepping up to Japan both economically and militarily would be very silly if it did,” he said.
“I think it’s probably a calculation that the Japanese have made, that they’re willing to bear that risk.”
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.