But when asked about Ukraine at a regular press briefing on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang answered indirectly.
China, which consistently says it opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs, is looking to “maintain principles” on Ukraine, it said Monday after Russia insisted the two were in broad agreement.
“China has always upheld the principles of diplomacy and the fundamental norms of international relations,” the Chinese spokesman said.
“At the same time, we also take into consideration the history and the current complexities of the Ukrainian issue. It could be said that China’s position is to both maintain principles while also seeking to be realistic.”
Russia has appeared keen to stress that it has a major international ally on its military intervention in Ukraine, and Beijing frequently backs Moscow’s positions against Western powers on thorny issues, such as the protracted conflict in Syria.
But, analysts say, China is torn between wanting to support Russia and maintaining its longtime opposition to foreign intervention, especially given its own separatist issues in the far-western region of Xinjiang.
China also noted, however, that “there are reasons that the Ukrainian situation is what it is today”.
Niu Jun, a professor of international affairs at Peking University, said China wanted to maintain its relationship with Russia but had strong concerns about foreign intervention.
“It’s all very inconvenient,” he said. “That’s why they came out with a statement nobody can understand.
“What this statement is really saying is, ‘what Russia did was not right and China does not want to support this military invasion’. But China also wants to support Russia, so it came up with excuses,” such as Russia’s history with Crimea and Ukraine’s internal situation, he said.
James Jeffrey, a retired career U.S. diplomat, told Reuters that the days and months ahead will be vital. If Putin faces few long-term consequences for seizing Crimea, it will set a precedent for China and other regional powers who may be considering establishing 19th-century-style spheres of influence of their own.
“The Chinese,” Jeffrey said, “are in the same position.”
Earlier, Moscow’s foreign ministry said that Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, in a phone call, noted “broadly coinciding points of view of Russia and China over the situation that has developed in the country and around it”.
Yet China’s account of the conversation was less direct, saying that the two men “thoroughly exchanged views on the matter” and agreed that “appropriately resolving” the situation was important to regional peace and stability.
Russia has found itself internationally isolated over its covert military intervention in Ukraine, and on Monday its stocks and currency collapsed amid fears of a prolonged military campaign.
The other members of the G8 nations on Sunday released a statement condemning Russia for violating international law and suspending their participation in a G8 summit scheduled for Sochi in June.
China is not a member of the G8.
China and Russia cooperated on vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad, although they voted through a resolution this month on allowing humanitarian aid convoys into Syria.