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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Zelensky’s visit to Japan: will Japan become the main alternative to China in the field of technology and investment to Ukraine?

From 21 to 24 October 2019, President, Volodymyr Zelensky paid a working visit to Japan to participate in the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. The ceremony of enthronement of the Emperor of Japan - "Sokuirei-Seiden-no-gi" - is one of the most important events in the context of the change of monarch in the land of the morning sun, at which Emperor Naruhito officially proclaimed his ascension to the throne.  The ceremony was attended by monarchs, presidents, among whom, in addition to Zelensky - the leaders of Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Hungary, etc., as well as other high-ranking officials and former leaders of the world. Foreign guests were invited to a banquet organized by the Imperial  Court after the enthronement ceremony, as well as a dinner at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Japan. Representation of Ukraine on the events related to the enthronement of the Emperor of Japan, at the level of the head of state demonstrates the important place of Japan in the foreign policy priorities of Ukraine, and also confirms the intention of our state's government to make efforts for the further development of the whole spectrum of Ukrainian-Japanese relations.

Investment cooperation between the two states became an important topic of bilateral meetings of President Zelensky in Japan. Thus, during Zelensky's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the parties discussed investments by Japan in the development of Ukraine's infrastructure, and in the West, with the participation of the Chairman of the Chamber of Advisors, A.Santo, the head of the Ukrainian state expressed hope that the number of Japanese companies registered in Ukraine will grow. Meetings were held between the President of Ukraine and the leadership of the Japan Association of New Economy, representatives of Marubeni Corporation and the President of the "Japan International Cooperation Agency", S. Kitaoka.

During Zelensky's visit to Japan, issues of cooperation between the two states in the field of security, which are relevant for both Ukraine and Japan, were raised. The head of the Ukrainian state thanked Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe for Japan's consistent policy of supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and non-recognition of the temporary occupation of Crimea, and also spoke about the security situation in the Donbas and the latest developments in the direction of ending the war and achieving peace. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Zelensky's meeting with Abe was also attended by S. Kitamura, Secretary General of the Japan's National Security Secretariat – a body established in 2013 to coordinate Japan's national security policy. There was also a meeting of Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Japan, Vadym Prystaiko and Toshimitsu Motegi, during which the parties noted the readiness to further strengthen bilateral cooperation, in particular, in the political and security fields.

The following Zelensky emphasis was made on the development of cooperation in the field of information technology, as evidenced by the results of the meeting with the leadership of the Japan Association of New Economy, during which the head of state said that the IT sector is one of the most dynamic in our state and told about plans of its development.[1]

Overcoming the consequences of accidents at nuclear power plants and disposal of radioactive waste became another topical subject of Ukrainian-Japanese negotiations in the framework of the meeting between Zelensky with the Chairman of the Japan-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Association, Eysuke Mori and members of the said Association, the President of Ukraine confirmed his intention to continue cooperation on overcoming the consequences of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and outlined as a promising area of activity the development and introduction of new technologies for the disposal of radioactive waste.

Finally, President Zelensky urged the Japanese side to consider the introduction of a visa-free regime for Ukrainians, especially on the eve of the 2020 Olympic Games. From January 1, 2018, the visa regime for Ukrainian citizens has been softened, and its further liberalization will provide a serious impetus to strengthen human exchanges between the two states. It should be noted that Japanese citizens can visit Ukraine for tourism without visas since 2005.

Zelensky's visit to Japan confirmed the general tendency to further strengthen relations with Japan, and outlined the main directions of bilateral cooperation in the near future. The visit was held in accordance with the priority goals declared in the Program of activities of the government of Ukraine, in particular, increasing the volume of exports and investments and expanding the list of states with visa-free regime for holders of Ukrainian passports. Further consistent steps to implement joint projects outlined by the President will have positive results for the people of Ukraine and will increase the competitiveness of our state in the international arena.[2]

Japanist, Vaclav Smykov explained what Zelensky's visit to Japan means. Vaclav Smykov noted that the leaders of almost all states were invited to the ceremony of enthronement of Emperor Naruhito of Japan, this is a manifestation of Japan's goodwill. "Volodymyr Zelensky's diplomatic visit to such an important ceremony demonstrates that Japan respects Ukraine, respects the Ukrainian government and sees good relations in the future," he said.  According to Vaclav Smykov, relations between Ukraine and Japan are now in an "embryonic" position. "Japan recognized the independence of Ukraine, it showed some interest in Ukraine during the Orange revolution in 2004, it perceived Ukraine as a counteraction to Russia in the West. There was a certain interest. There was some interest, there was also investment. Then that interest was extinguished because of irrelevant reforms of Yushchenko's government and Victor Yanukovych's coming to power. Nevertheless, after 2014, Japan again began to be interested in Ukraine, almost 1.8 billion dollars of aid was allocated, " he said. 

Japan sees the prospect of investing in the Ukrainian infrastructure, in the medical and social fields, in particular, we are talking about helping to reintegrate people affected by the war in Eastern Ukraine. "Nevertheless, Japan invests very slowly in the Ukrainian economy. Japanese large corporations do not enter the Ukrainian market because of corruption. In general, since 1991 we have 11 representative offices of Japanese companies in Ukraine. Japanese companies are the most successful companies in the world. We would be interested for them to invest in the Ukrainian economy, enter our market," Vaclav Smykov said.[3]

 Therefore, taking into account the agreements reached, the visit was quite fruitful. Of particular importance is that Zelensky became the first President of Ukraine, who visited the enthronement of the Japanese Emperor. Mainly, during his visit to Japan, the President of Ukraine aimed to improve bilateral relations, find investors and international support. Actually he managed to do all this. Time will tell whether Japan will become the main alternative to China in the field of technology and investment in Ukraine. According to the results of the visit of President, Zelensky, it seems that Japanese investment companies are ready to take on the role of a strategic investor. Now everything depends on the Ukrainian government. Is it ready to create the necessary conditions for the realization of such a role by Japanese capital?


[2] Ibid.