The White House has weighed in on a petition calling for the US government to crack down on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a television talk show that sparked a furore in China in October with a joke about killing Chinese people to avoid paying down US debt to the country.
More than 105,000 people signed on to a White House petition calling for an apology after the show on the American Broadcasting Co included a segment where Kimmel asked a group of children how the United States should pay back the US$1.3 trillion it owes to China.
A six-year-old said: "Kill everyone in China." Host Jimmy Kimmel replied: "That's an interesting idea."
Afterwards, Chinese-American groups protested outside the California headquarters of ABC, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry complained. ABC and Kimmel apologised for the segment.
The White House, which accepts petitions and responds to the most popular ones, noted that ABC and Kimmel had "already apologised independently" and said the comments "do not reflect mainstream views of China in the United States".
"As the president has stated publicly, the United States welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China," the White House said in its official response to the petition.
However, it also noted that the US constitution protected free speech and that the federal government could not force ABC to "cut the show" as the petition had requested.
"It may be upsetting when people say things we might personally disagree with, but the principle of protected free speech is an important part of who we are as a nation," the White House response declared.