China's state-run media lashed out at Western "hypocrisy" on Tuesday in its response to the Russian military intervention in Crimea and the subsequent referendum, saying that Moscow's actions were the result of strategic "squeezing" during the past two decades.
"Double standards are on display as Western leaders attack Russia," the official English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
"Listening to the American leaders lecturing Russia in their self-righteous tone, one is struck by the double standard and hypocrisy involved," it said.
In a reference to China's troubled regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, the China Daily said that countries dealing with separatism could be forgiven for acting with caution in the face of secession demands.
But it said Western countries like the United States and the European member states have committed "worse aggression" in other countries, including Iraq.
The paper also hit out at descriptions of Russian involvement as an "invasion" of the region.
"They don't seem to realize how they have violated the same principles and behavior they demand of Russia," it said, citing U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The comments in the paper come as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday claiming the Black Sea region of Crimea as Russian territory, in a defiant expansion of the country's post-Soviet borders that has plunged relations with the West to a new post-Cold War low.
Ukraine warned Tuesday that the showdown had entered a "military stage" after soldiers were killed on both sides, following a referendum Sunday in which the Russian-speaking region of Crimea voted to quit Ukraine and join Russia.
The day before China had abstained from a UN Security Council emergency vote on a Western-backed resolution condemning the Crimea referendum, which Russia vetoed.
'Squeezed by the West'
China's tabloid Global Times, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, also chimed in on the territorial expansion on Tuesday.
"Putin's ambition doesn't seem to be to increase Russian territory by more than about 0.2 percent," the paper wrote in an editorial in its Chinese-language edition.
"What he wants is a revival of Russian dignity, because Moscow believes that it has been strategically squeezed by the West for the past 20 years," it said.
"Russia needed to use considerable force to overcome this momentum."
The paper warned of the consequences of a return to the Cold War between Russia and the West.
"Hostility towards Moscow in the West revolves to a large extent around dislike for Putin as a person," it said. "This has closed off one of the most important channels through which they could reach an understanding with Russia."
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Chinese-language Ta Kung Pao newspaper quoted an international relations expert as saying that China and Russia "have much in common" amid the Ukraine crisis.
However, Beijing would be handling its response to the Crimea issue very carefully, it quoted East China Normal University Russian expert Feng Shaolei as saying, "because the Chinese understand the complexities of the region."
A 'sensitive' issue
The article said Beijing has found the entire issue of a referendum to decide matters of sovereignty to be "very sensitive," however.
"Separatism is deemed an extremist ideology," it said. "It might provoke a challenge from the multiethnic areas of Xinjiang and Tibet. The Chinese government will not tolerate any political movement that appears to advocate separatism."
Current affairs commentator Zha Jianguo said China's media tends to support any events that aren't helpful to the Western political agenda.
"This makes them incredibly happy," Zha said. "In reality, China is actually very conflicted. On the one hand, they have to oppose the West, but on the other, it's a double-edged sword."
"They are afraid of the question of independence and the referendum, because this touches on China's own issues in Xinjiang and Tibet."
Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu agreed, saying that China's own internal politics are dictating its response to external events in the wake of deadly knife attacks in Kunming at the beginning of this month that Beijing has blamed on Uyghur separatists from Xinjiang.
"They started out talking about a terrorist plot by East Turkestan terrorists, but now they have gone all quiet," Gao said, using a name for Xinjiang preferred by pro-independence activists.
"Because it could be Crimea today, Xinjiang tomorrow."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.