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Japan's foreign minister to visit Ukraine next month

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will visit Ukraine next month in what would be the first visit by a Japanese minister to the country since Russia annexed Crimea, a report said Wednesday.

TOKYO: Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will visit Ukraine next month in what would be the first visit by a Japanese minister to the country since Russia annexed Crimea, a report said Wednesday.

The report in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper comes after Kishida's planned trip to Russia in April was postponed, and as Japan tries to balance toeing the Western line on Ukraine with its fervent desire to maintain relations with Moscow in an effort to resolve a decades-old territorial dispute.

Japan has increasingly sought to draw analogies between Russia's use of force on its smaller neighbour and China's sabre-rattling in rows over disputed islands both with Tokyo and with other Asian nations.

Kishida is set to reconfirm with his opposite number in Kiev that neither side can accept "change of status quo by force", the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

A foreign ministry official in charge of Ukrainian affairs refused to confirm the report, saying that no decision on any trip had been made. Japanese bureaucrats customarily make no pronouncements on diplomatic movements until just before they happen.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held multiple summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin since coming to office in late 2012, pushing to expand economic ties and resolve a dispute over the ownership of islands that were seized by Soviet troops in the dying days of World War II.

But the crisis in Ukraine has thrown a spanner in the works, and Tokyo is expected to fall in with its allies in Europe and North America, heaping sanctions and pressure on Moscow.

Kishida's April visit was officially postponed for "scheduling reasons".

Japan is wary that any international acceptance of the changed "facts on the ground" in Crimea risks setting a precedent in its dispute with China over the sovereignty of islands in the East China Sea, and could encourage unilateral action by Beijing.

However, most observers say a Crimea-style landgrab by China is unlikely.

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