CNN said Wednesday that commentator Jack Cafferty was referring to China's leaders — not the Chinese people — when he described them as a "bunch of goons and thugs," and apologized to anyone who thought otherwise.

On Tuesday, China demanded an apology for Jack Cafferty's comments broadcast on CNN, in which he also described Chinese products as "junk."

Beijing had already singled out U.S.-based CNN as among Western news outlets that produced allegedly biased coverage of violent anti-government protests in Tibet and across western China last month.

"CNN would like to clarify that it was not Mr. Cafferty's, nor CNN's, intent to cause offense to the Chinese people, and would apologize to anyone who has interpreted the comments in this way," the network said in an e-mailed statement.

"CNN is a network that reports the news in an objective and balanced fashion. However, as part of our coverage we also employ commentators who provide robust opinions that generate debate," it said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Cafferty's comments reflected his "ignorance and ... hostility" toward China.

"We are shocked and strongly condemn the vicious remarks by Cafferty," ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Tuesday. "We solemnly request CNN and Cafferty himself take back the malicious remarks and apologize to the Chinese people."

The famously curmudgeonly Cafferty had been speaking during an April 9 appearance on "The Situation Room," according to a transcript posted on the CNN Web site.

"We continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know, jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we're buying from Wal-Mart," Cafferty said, according to the transcript.

"So I think our relationship with China has certainly changed," he continued. "I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years."

CNN has already pointed out a clarification Cafferty made Monday on "The Situation Room."

"I was referring to the Chinese government, and not to Chinese people or to Chinese-Americans," he said of his "goons and thugs" comment.

"It should be noted that over many years, Jack Cafferty has expressed critical comments on many governments, including the U.S. government and its leaders," CNN's statement said.

Chinese at home and abroad have denounced Western media for what it called slanted reports about the unrest in Tibet. They say Beijing was unjustly criticized for the crackdown, in reports that ignored the region's history of feudalism under the Dalai Lama and its economic development under communist rule.

Numerous Web postings, YouTube videos and Facebook groups have criticized the Tibet news coverage, including a Web site called anti-cnn.com, which was set up especially to point out alleged media bias.