The US would “absolutely welcome” the return of Chinese pandas that Beijing recently returned home, the White House said Thursday, stressing any decision is ultimately Chinese President Xi Jinping’s to make.
“We obviously appreciated having them here, and we respect the sovereign decision that China made to remove some of those pandas, and certainly should a decision be made by the PRC to restore some of the pandas to the United States, we would absolutely welcome them back,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
“That’s got to be a decision that obviously President Xi makes,” he told reporters.
Addressing politicians, businessmen and policymakers after meeting US President Joe Biden in northern California, Xi said he was “told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off.”
“Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” he said following the first sit-down with the leaders in more than a year.
The pandas — Mei Xiang and Tian Tian — returned to China from the US National Zoo last week. They had resided at the facility for more than two decades after arriving Dec. 6, 2000.
They were the second pair of pandas to have been hosted at the National Zoo.
The comments come as Biden and Xi struck upbeat notes following closed-door discussions, with the US president saying he held “constructive and productive” talks with Xi on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, adding he believes they made “some important progress” on bilateral ties.
Biden announced the US and China are restarting “critically important” military-to-military communication and resuming cooperation against the illegal drug trade that includes work to reduce the flow of precursor chemicals and pill presses fueling the fentanyl crisis.
The US president also announced that Washington and Beijing will bring experts together to discuss the risks posed by artificial intelligence.