Pro-Ukrainian protests in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and elsewhere in Asia

This weekend, as the Japanese government dramatically increased sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, the Japanese people also reacted. With the help of Japanese social media influencers and celebrities spreading news about Ukraine and calls to action that have gone viral on social media, Japanese residents have come out in droves for Ukrainians.

Solidarity with Ukraine can be seen in many Asian countries, with symbolic demonstrations in several capitals and Singapore and South Korea joining the sanctions against Russia. People in Myanmar and Hong Kong have also recognized that the Ukrainians’ struggle resembles their own struggle against oppression.

In Tokyo, Japanese residents stood alongside Ukrainians and Russians in several peace protests, including one that drew around 2,000 people to the popular Shibuya district.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were devastated by US atomic bombings during World War II, survivors opposed the recent escalation of the nuclear threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin, holding up signs reading: “No more Hiroshima , Nagasaki”.

Protesters in the western Japanese cities of Nagoya and Kyoto, home to many expats, sang the Ukrainian anthem. In Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear meltdown, around 50 people chanted “Stop Putin” and held up signs decorated with sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower.

“With the possibility of nuclear war, I felt it was necessary to send our voices of protest from a bombed city,” said Erika Abiko, 43, who helped organize the Hiroshima protest. , in an interview with the Japanese television channel NHK. “I hope that our solidarity will be passed on to those who are suffering.”

Donations are also pouring in. On Friday, the Ukrainian Embassy in Japan tweeted their Japanese bank account number for donations. It has been retweeted and liked more than 432,000 times, with residents donating between 3,000 yen ($25) and 1,000,000 yen ($8,654). Others deposited envelopes with cash donations at the embassy.

Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of e-commerce giant Rakuten, donated $8.7 million for humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, recalling his visit to Ukraine in 2019 and his meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Monday, Mikitani opened a donation channel through Rakuten.

Japan said on Monday it would allow Ukrainian and Russian refugees opposed to the invasion into the country and renew visas for Ukrainians in Japan who are to stay. He joins the West in cut Russian banks from SWIFT international payment system, which could hamper Russia’s ability to do business outside its borders. Japan will also freeze the assets of Belarusian individuals, including President Alexander Lukashenko, and impose restrictions on Russia’s central bank.

Japan’s response to the Russian invasion contrasts sharply with that of 2014, when the government imposed token sanctions in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. At the time, public response was mixed, with the feeling that Crimea was a distant problem that did not affect the Japanese, said James Brown, an expert on Russian-Japanese relations at the Temple University campus in Tokyo.

But this time, the Japanese government and public are acutely aware of the implications of Russia’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the face of an assertive China, Brown said.

“There is a general fear that if Russia is allowed to conquer Ukraine by force, it might embolden China to seize the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan,” Brown said. “Separately, the nuclear issue creates a bond between the Japanese and Ukrainian peoples. This is because they are both the victims of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disasters.

Pro-Ukrainian sentiments echoed in Asian cities, in anti-war protests and iconic monuments lit up in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

In Seoul, protesters representing 400 South Korean civic groups gathered in front of the Russian Embassy ask Russia to cease all military action against Ukraine. They urged the South Korean government to take “all possible diplomatic measures” for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The demonstrators staged a “die-in” by lying on the ground to symbolize the victims of war, and several landmarks were illuminated in blue and yellow.

South Korea has also joined Japan in preventing Russian banks from carrying out SWIFT transactions and instituting export controls against Russia.

Solidarity with Ukraine also came from remote corners of Myanmar, where protesters waved the European country’s flag alongside that of ethnic armed rebel groups fighting the Russian-backed Myanmar military.

Myanmar’s rebel National Unity Government, made up of those aligned with the former democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has also shown solidarity with Ukraine, condemning the invasion “in the strongest terms “.

Many of those who resisted the military coup in Myanmar saw parallels between Ukraine and their own situation. Russia has also been among the staunchest supporters of Myanmar’s military and its commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, continuing to fulfill arms orders and train military pilots carrying out attacks on civilians.

The Burmese junta, in turn, praised Russia as it invaded Ukraine.

The story of David and Goliath – of a small place committed to the ideals of democracy, standing up against an authoritarian superpower – is one that also resonates among pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. During the 2019 pro-democracy protests there, frontline protesters borrowed tactics seen during the Maidan anti-government protests in Ukraine in 2014-15. The documentary “Winter on Fire” was widely watched during this period.

Many of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders were later forced into exile in a Beijing-sponsored crackdown, and from Australia, Germany and London have called on Hong Kongers to support Ukraine. An exiled militant, Finn Lausaid last week that he would instead donate half of his January donations for the Hong Kong cause to Ukraine.

Prominent London-based Hong Kong activist Nathan Law said in a tweet that Hong Kong people “understand what it feels like to have a threatening neighbor and the will of the people being suppressed by authoritarian power.” .

On Friday and Saturday, dozens of expats and residents gathered outside the Moscow-Taipei Coordinating Commission on Economic and Cultural Cooperation, Russia’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, to protest the incursions into Ukraine. Protesters also held sunflowers – the flower is also a symbol of a student protest in Taiwan in 2014 – and posters saying, “We are all Ukrainians today”.

“When something terrible happens, wherever it is, as human beings we need to speak up,” said Yang Pinghung, 26, standing at the protest in Taipei on Friday, holding a sign that read ” No war”.

Inuma reported from Tokyo and Mahtani from Hong Kong. Lily Kuo and Vic Chiang in Taipei, Min Joo Kim in Seoul, and Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.

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