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'Outraged by the cruelty': Japan PM Kishida visits Bucha on surprise Ukraine trip

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, front, lays the flowers at a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv, 21 March 2023
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, front, lays the flowers at a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv, 21 March 2023 Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Euronews with AP
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Prime Miniser Kishida is Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone with his surprise visit to Kyiv.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a surprise visit to Ukraine early Tuesday, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in neighboring Russia for a three-day visit. The dueling summits come as the longtime rivals are on diplomatic offensives.

Kyodo News said he visited a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians, laid flowers at a church there and paid his respects to the victims.

“I’m outraged by the cruelty. I represent the Japanese citizens to express my condolences to those who lost their lives,” he was quoted as saying.

Ukraine hailed the visit as a "sign of solidarity" from Tokyo after more than a year of Russian invasion of the country.

"This historic visit is a sign of solidarity and strong cooperation between Ukraine and Japan. We are grateful to Japan for its strong support and contribution to our future victory," Ukraine's deputy foreign minister said. 

Japan's foreign ministry said that PM 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." 

At the talks, Kishida is expected to show his “absolute rejection of Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force, and to affirm his commitment to defend the rules-based international order,” the ministry’s statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on a visit both nations describe as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.”

Japanese public television channel NTV showed Kishida riding a train from Poland heading to Kyiv. His surprise trip to Ukraine comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, and the week after a breakthrough summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.

AP/NTV
In this image made from video provided by Japan's NTV, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gets on train in Przemysl, Poland, early Tuesday, March 21, 2023, heading to KyivAP/NTV

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.

Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home. US President Joe Biden took a similar route to visit Kyiv last month, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Due to limitations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, his trip was arranged secretly. Kishida is Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone. Kishida, invited by Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv, was also asked before his trip to India about a rumor of his possible trip at the end of March, denied it and said nothing concrete has been decided.

Japan has joined the United States and European nations in sanctioning Russia over its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine.

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.

Japan has contributed more than $7 billion (€6.52) 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.

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