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Karl Ritter, Associated Press
Karl Ritter, Associated Press
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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit Tuesday to Kyiv, stealing some of the global attention from Asian rival President Xi Jinping of China, who met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Beijing’s peace proposal for Ukraine that Western nations have already criticized.
The two visits, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) apart, highlighted the nearly 13-month-old war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind Moscow or Kyiv. They follow a week in which China and Japan both enjoyed diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.
After talks with Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Chinese peace plan could provide a basis for a settlement of the fighting in Ukraine when the West is ready for it, but he added that Kyiv’s Western allies have shown no interest in that.
U.S. officials have said any peace plan coming from the Putin-Xi meeting would be unacceptable to Washington because it would only ratify Moscow’s territorial conquests and give Russia time to plan for a renewed offensive.
“It looks like the West indeed intends to fight Russia until the last Ukrainian,” Putin said, pointing out a British plan to provide Ukraine with tank rounds containing depleted uranium. “If that happens, Russia will respond accordingly, given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.”
READ MORE: China’s Xi Jinping to meet Putin as nation seeks more global role
He did not elaborate. Putin has occasionally warned that Russia would use all available means, including possibly nuclear weapons, to defend itself, but also has sometimes backed off such threats.
Beijing insists it is a neutral broker in Ukraine peace efforts, and Xi repeated Tuesday after his talks with Putin that China favors “peace and dialogue” to resolve disputes.
“We adhere to a principled and objective position on the Ukrainian crisis based on the goals and principles of the U.N. Charter,” Xi said, adding the Chinese plan seeks to “actively encourage peace and the resumption of talks.”
Speaking after the talks, Putin said that the joint declarations issued by Russia and China “fully reflect a special character of the Russia-China relations, which are at their highest level in history and serve as an example of a true comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.”
Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital, coinciding with Xi’s second day of talks with Putin in the Russian capital.
Kishida will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskyy’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
Kishida visited a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians, and laid flowers at a church there for the victims.
“Upon this visit to Bucha, I feel a strong resentment against cruelty,” he said. “I would like to represent the people in Japan, and express my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones, were injured as a result of this cruel act.”
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel tweeted about the “two very different European-Pacific partnerships” that unfolded Tuesday.
“Kishida stands with freedom, and Xi stands with a war criminal,” Emanuel said, referring to last week’s decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Putin, saying it wanted to put him on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
READ MORE: Australia buys American-made submarines to counter China’s growing presence in Pacific
Kyiv’s allies are pledging more support. Washington is accelerating its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, sending a refurbished older version that can be ready faster, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The aim is to get the 70-ton behemoths to the war zone in eight-to-10 months, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced.
Putin is keen to show he has a heavyweight ally and also find a market for Russian energy products under Western sanctions.
Speaking Tuesday at talks involving top officials from both countries, Putin said he wants to expand bilateral economic ties, noting Russian-Chinese trade rose by 30% last year to $185 billion and is expected to top $200 billion this year.
Russia stands “ready to meet the Chinese economy’s growing demand for energy resources” by boosting deliveries of oil and gas, he said, while offering a long list of other areas of economic and cultural cooperation, including aircraft and shipbuilding industries and other high-tech sectors.
Xi said he aimed to “strengthen coordination and interaction” with Russia, adding that it would help “the prosperity and revival of China and Russia.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused NATO of seeking to become the world’s dominant military force and said Moscow is trying to prevent it.
“That is why we are expanding our cooperation with China, including in the security sphere,” he said.
In other developments, Western officials “have seen some signs” that Putin also wants lethal weapons from China, though there is no evidence Beijing has granted his request, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Tuesday.
“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “That would be to support an illegal war and only prolong the war.”
At a meeting Tuesday with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Xi said he invited Putin to visit China later this year for a top-level meeting of China’s One Belt, One Road regional initiative, which seeks to extend Beijing’s influence through economic cooperation projects.
Moscow and Beijing have both weathered international condemnation of their human rights records. The Chinese government has been widely condemned for alleged atrocities against Uighur Muslims in its far western Xinjiang region. The allegations include genocide, forced sterilization and the mass detention of nearly 1 million Uighurs. Beijing has denied the allegations.
Japanese public television channel NTV showed Kishida riding a train from Poland to Kyiv. His trip comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and a week after a breakthrough summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.
In New Delhi, Kishida called for developing and Global South countries to raise their voices to defend the rules-based international order and help stop Russia’s war.
READ MORE: Leaders of Japan, Germany agree to increase economic, defense cooperation
Japan, which has territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is particularly concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have conducted joint military exercises near Japan’s coasts.
Beijing’s diplomatic foray follows its recent success in brokering a deal between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia, to restore diplomatic ties after years of tensions. The move displayed China’s influence in a region where Washington has long been the major foreign player.
Kishida was the only G-7 leader who hadn’t visited Ukraine and was under domestic pressure to do so. U.S. President Joe Biden took a similar route to visit Kyiv last month, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Kishida, Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone, was invited by Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv.
Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has been limited to equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and drones, and humanitarian supplies including generators.
Japan has contributed more than $7 billion to Ukraine, and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing assistance and support for jobs and education, a rare move in a country that is known for its strict immigration policy.
Tokyo joined the U.S. and European nations in sanctioning Russia over its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine. In contrast, China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and Washington of provoking Putin’s military action.
Japan was quick to react because it fears the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where China’s military has grown increasingly assertive and has escalated tensions around self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said about Kishida’s trip to Kyiv: “We hope Japan could do more things to deescalate the situation instead of the opposite.”
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.
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