China President Xi hints at return of pandas to US zoos

China's President Xi Jinping has indicated that plans are being considered to return giant pandas to US zoos.

In recent years, many pandas in US zoos have been sent back to China after their lease agreements expired. Three giant pandas were returned to China from a zoo in Washington DC last week. The only ones remaining in the US are those at a zoo in Atlanta.

Xi, now visiting San Francisco for the APEC summit, said on Wednesday, "We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation."

He also said that China will do its best "to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples."

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that the United States would "absolutely welcome" the pandas' return.

US media have reported Xi's remarks on pandas alongside news about US-China relations. One media outlet said bilateral relations began to sour in the past few years, prompting Chinese people to start demanding the return of giant pandas. But it said relations are showing signs of stabilization as Xi traveled to San Francisco to meet with US President Joe Biden.