By Riyaz ul Khaliq and Emre Basaran
ISTANBUL (AA) - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s trip to war-hit Ukraine “signaled strong solidarity” of the West with Kyiv, according to experts who spoke to Anadolu.
“The timing of the visit is also symbolic,” said Jingdong Yuan, an international affairs scholar at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), referring to Kishida’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this week.
Kishida met Zelensky “exactly” when Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Moscow meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, he said.
Taiwanese academic Chienyu Shih agreed with Yuan, arguing “Kishida’s visit represents Ukraine is not alone but with global support to resist Russian invasion.”
Shih is a research fellow at Taiwan Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
The Japanese prime minister flew to Poland on a surprise trip last Tuesday and traveled to Kyiv to meet Zelensky in a show of support.
Kishida was the last of the G7 leaders to visit Ukraine after Russia launched its war against Kyiv last February.
Ukraine was delighted with Kishida’s visit as First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Emine Dzheppa said the country “is happy to welcome” him.
“This historic visit is a sign of solidarity and strong cooperation between Ukraine and Japan,” Dzheppa wrote in a tweet with pictures of the Japanese premier’s arrival. “We are grateful to Japan for its strong support and contribution to our future victory,” she said.
Yuan also pointed to the significance of the visit. “The symbolism couldn't have been clearer, signaling strong solidarity of the West in support of Ukraine,” he said.
While Japanese media called Kishida’s unannounced visit “rare” since information about such foreign visits is released beforehand, Kishida used a private business jet rather than a government plane “to minimize the prime minister's entourage, and strictly control the outflow of information.”
Yuan said it was the “first time a Japanese prime minister ever visits a country in war.”
“Given all the complex planning and risks involved, this is an act of showing solidarity with Ukraine in its fight for sovereignty against Russian aggression,” added the SIPRI scholar.
Kishida’s visit came after China’s Xi flew to Moscow for a three-day visit where he stressed in talks with Putin that “voices for peace and rationality” on the Ukraine issue “are building.”
Putin replied: “Russia is open to talks for peace.”
China in February proposed a 12-point peace plan for dealing with the war.
- Kishida’s domestic woes
Experts also believe Kishida is in a “delicate position” at home where his approval ratings are still below 50% since being inaugurated in 2021.
Meanwhile, Einar Tangen, a senior fellow at the Beijing-based Taihe Institute, told Anadolu that “under Kishida, Japan is in a precarious economic situation.”
“Given its massive debt, which exceeds Japan's GDP by 221%, and 4.1% decline in real income, Kishida struggles politically, with 43% disapproval, compared to 42% approval, ratings,” he said.
On how China views Kishida’s trip to Kyiv, he said: “it will be seen as political grandstanding by a Japanese prime minister who is in a delicate position.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry hoped Kishida’s visit would “help de-escalate the situation instead of the opposite.”
“Japan holds over a trillion dollars’ worth of US Treasuries, which have been steadily declining in value since the Fed boosted rates,” said Tangen.
Referring to the meltdown of four US banks in recent weeks that have gone under -- Silvergate Bank, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), Signature Bank and First Republic Bank, Tangen said: “The danger Japan faces makes SVB look like a tempest in a teapot.”
Kishida “might welcome this as a distraction from his domestic woes, but it doesn't advance any solutions,” he added.
On Tokyo’s pledge of $7 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Kyiv, Tangen said: “Humanitarian assistance will be welcome, no one doubts the plight of the Ukrainian people, but the rebuilding assistance promise is a bit odd, as it would be premised on peace.”
But Yuan said Japan committing billions in financial support to Ukraine “is also making a substantive contribution and a big statement.”
- ‘China taking advantage of war’
Shih, the Taiwanese academic. believes Xi’s Moscow trip was “obviously not aiming for promoting peace talk between Russia and Ukraine.”
“China is taking advantage of the current war in Ukraine in terms of supplying what Russia may need in the battle in exchanging of trade surplus and military technology transfers,” Shih told Anadolu from Taipei.
He added: “The war in Ukraine is actually depleting the US and NATO military and economic capacity.”
“Japan needs to work out a role both in Ukrainian and Taiwanese cases, and both of them would affect Japan's security and economic interests,” added Shih.
Yuan agreed. Kishida’s visit also “can be seen as the many steps that Japan has been taking toward becoming a normal country since the idea was broached in the 1980s by then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.”
“These include the significant increase in defense spending for the next five years as part of a new Japanese security policy released late last year,” said the SIPRI scholar.
The Japanese premier previously lashed out at Russia about the war.
“Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida warned in June 2022.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not just a European matter, but a challenge to the rules and principles of the entire international community,” said Kishida.