Connect with us

Politics & Security

Japanese FM Displays Dauntless Support for Ukraine Amid Russia's New Year Bombardment

In Kyiv, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa reiterated Japan's commitment to Ukraine, informing President Zelenskyy of innovative ways to help vulnerable citizens.



Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes Japan's Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa before their meeting, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 7, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Piercing emergency sirens sounded soon after Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa arrived in Ukraine — forcing her to retreat to an underground shelter. Reporters hastily followed her down a dark flight of stairs to a basement. Outside, shells rained down upon Kyiv as the Russian army intensified its New Year attacks.

Ukranian civilians are often targeted. Four people were killed by Russian air strikes on Monday, January 8.

During her short visit to the country, Minister Kamikawa reiterated Japan's consistent policy of supporting Ukraine. She stated that her government's commitment remains unchanged, even in the face of the current severe international situation.

She explained that Japan is providing generators to produce power during the winter. A cold snap is currently sweeping Ukraine, and many people are without electricity. The bad weather has impacted transport systems, such as trolley buses and trams. 

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (left) announces the Japanese government's provision of generators to Ukraine. January 7 in Kyiv. (©Kyodo)

Minister Kamikawa expressed particular concern about the crisis facing women and children. She spoke of the need to ensure human dignity, noting that women have a crucial role to play in finding ways to prevent and resolve conflict.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Ms Kamikawa engaged in "candid discussion" with her hosts on the efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace — to which the Ukrainian side attaches great importance — and on Japan's potential for concrete contribution to the process.

She met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who offered his condolences for Japan's New Year's Day earthquake. He thanked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for elevating the level of relations with Ukraine during Japan's G7 presidency in 2023.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (front left) offers prayers at a memorial within church grounds that became a mass burial site. January 7, Bucha, near Kyiv, Ukraine. (©Kyodo)

Seeking Protection

Ukraine's foreign minister told Japan that his country would like to obtain systems to protect people from aerial attacks by Russia.

As well as missiles, the Russian army is using Shahed attack drones — also known as "kamikaze" drones, against civilian targets. According to the BBC, unmanned aircraft, loaded with explosives, loiter over sites until instructed to strike.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (right) and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa at a joint press conference. It was held in an underground shelter after an air raid alert was issued. January 7, Kyiv. (©Kyodo)

So how can Japan provide assistance to the Ukrainian forces?

There are some clear boundaries. No nation is sending troops to fight alongside the Ukranians. However, many countries offer weapons, including missiles and tanks.

For Japan, the constitution prevents the dispatch of weapons to nations in conflict. Nevertheless, since the Russian invasion, Japan has aimed to support Kyiv by providing non-lethal equipment such as helmets, bulletproof jackets, and anti-mine sweepers.

Furthermore, a significant shift in defense policy in December 2023 has major implications for Ukraine. Under the new rules, Japan is allowing armaments made domestically under foreign licenses to be exported to licensing nations.

Soon after the law was passed, Tokyo approved a request from Washington for the production of Patriot surface-to-air guided missiles in Japan, under an American license, and the sale of those weapons to the United States.

A Profound Shift in Policy

In the view of Kana Inagaki of The Financial Times, this move will enable Tokyo to directly support Ukraine's war against Russia. She believes the missiles will free up American stocks, earmarked for the Indo-Pacific. As a result, the Americans should be able to send missiles to support the Ukrainian army.

Ms Inagaki also notes that: "Japan's move on arms exports followed an even more profound shift in its national security policy a year ago, when Prime Minister Kishida ramped up military spending and authorized the acquisition of counter-strike capabilities to address a rising threat from China."

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara has said the deal to supply the Patriot missiles to America will boost the alliance with the US and enhance Japan's overall stability.

On her trip to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Kamikawa underscored Japan's determination to uphold the international order based upon the rule of law. She said that unilateral changes to the status quo by force cannot be accepted. 

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (right, center) holds talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left, center) in Kyiv on January 7, 2024. (Courtesy of the Presidential Office of Ukraine)

The Price of Defense

Public support for increased military spending has been growing. In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, heightened tensions over Taiwan, and increasingly frequent missile tests by North Korea, polls suggest that the public supports an increase in defense spending.

Late in 2023, the Japanese parliament voted to authorize a 16.5 percent increase in its 2024 defense budget to a record ¥7.95 trillion JPY ($55 billion USD), with a focus on missile-strike capabilities.

The challenge for the government is how to finance the additional expenditure without making significant cuts in welfare spending or sharply raising taxes.


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays on JAPAN Forward.

Our Partners