Seeking as broad a coalition as possible, Obama also spoke by phone Monday with the leaders of Spain and Kazakhstan, echoing familiar themes about respect for Ukraine's sovereignty. The White House said Obama and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Ukraine's new government for showing restraint, while Obama encouraged President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan — one of the largest ex-Soviet nations — to play an active role in finding a peaceful outcome.
In wooing China's support, the U.S. is seeking to capitalize on Beijing's policy of non-intervention, which Beijing has used as a rationale for limiting its involvement in North Korea and elsewhere around the world.
U.S. officials believe China may be viewing the situation in Crimea through the prism of its own ethnic minorities in border regions. The officials say they were buoyed by comments last week from China's ambassador to the United Nations, who emphasized Beijing's support for non-interference while not directly taking a side in the dispute.
That and other previous statements from Chinese officials have stressed Beijing's determination to hold to its longstanding policy of opposing threats to any country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. But, perhaps tellingly, they have also referred obliquely to "reasons" that the Ukraine situation has evolved as it has, suggesting sympathy with Russia's complaints of Western meddling.
Ken Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said China appears to be "sitting on the fencepost" when it comes to Russia's incursion into Ukraine.
"What we're seeing in China's statements very much reflects the major — and in this instance, conflicting — interests the Chinese leadership has," said Lieberthal, a former Asia adviser under President Bill Clinton.
Even if China were to publicly oppose Russia's military maneuvers in Crimea, it would likely be a symbolic gesture, and there's no expectation China would levy economic penalties against Russia or take other punitive action.