Michelle Obama arrives in China for a six day visit Thursday evening. She begins her trip in Beijing, where she will spend a day with Peng Liyuan, the Chinese president’s wife before visiting the country’s cultural and historical sites.
Obama will be accompanied by her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Robinson. President Obama will not be on the trip and the White House is leaving politics to him. Obama will be focusing on the “importance of cultural exchanges between our young people and the shared importance of education,” said Tina Tchen, the first lady’s chief of staff.
Obama’s day with Peng, who is often described as China’s first, first lady because of her Western approach to the role, will be closely watched. Both Peng and Obama have been involved with educational causes, and they will visit a school together. Peng will lead Obama on a tour of the Forbidden City, which was the seat of Chinese imperial power from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, and the two will see a show and have a private dinner.
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American and Chinese leaders have not had especially close personal relationships and there is hope among foreign relations experts that Obama and Peng will form a bond. Along with shared causes, both are mothers of daughters and have been noted for their fashion sense and popularity within their home counties.
Michelle Obama’s soft diplomacy approach will guide the entire trip. She doesn’t plan to talk about any of the issues that complicate the relationship between the two global competitors. The Chinese government’s human rights record crops up during almost every high-level meeting between the two countries, but don’t expect the first lady to bring any of that up. It’s not her role, White House officials have said, even though Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton both raised those concerns during their time as first lady.
On her second day in Beijing, Obama will give a speech about cultural exchange at the Stanford Center at Peking University, where she’ll meet with Chinese and American students who have studied abroad in each other’s countries. About 200,000 Chinese students are studying in the U.S., more than from any other country. Only 20,000 American students study in China each year. The Obama administration wants to boost that number.
The first lady and her family will also do a lot of sightseeing, including visiting the Great Wall.
When Obama leaves Beijing, she will go to the interior of China, to Xi’an, home of the ancient Terracotta Warrior sculptures. After a day there, she will visit Chengdu in the Sichuan province, where she will give a second speech at a high school in Chengdu known for its technology.
Her last stop will involve a bit of panda diplomacy, a Chinese practice that dates back to Mao Zedong, as she swings by Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Mao began the practice of giving pandas to foster relationships with other countries.