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Michelle Obama's China visit set to boost relations

Publication Date : 05-03-2014


A visit to China this month by US first lady Michelle Obama will showcase US intimacy with China, draw the two nations closer and increase Chinese people's curiosity about the US first family, according to observers.

On Monday, the White House announced that the visit will take place from March 19 to 26. Obama will be accompanied by her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha.

It will be her first trip to China, as she did not accompany her husband on his visit in 2009.

She will visit Beijing from March 20 to 23, Xi'an on March 24 and Chengdu from March 25 to 26, the office of the first lady said in a statement.

During the trip, she will meet Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping.

A scheduling conflict meant that she missed meeting China's first lady in June when Xi, accompanied by his wife, traveled to southern California for a summit with President Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate.

Instead, she wrote to Peng, welcoming her to the United States and saying she regretted missing the chance to meet.

The statement from the office of the first lady said this month's visit will focus on education and will involve trips to Chinese universities and high schools as well as important historical and cultural sites.

Michelle Obama's visit set to boost relations

The younger Obama daughter, 12-year-old Sasha, may be more familiar with China than her parents. She has studied Chinese at school and practiced her Chinese with then-president Hu Jintao when he visited the US in 2011.

Niu Jun, a professor of US studies at Peking University, said a trip anywhere by the US first lady and her daughters is an unusual move, involving high security costs.

"For sure, it is hard to separate the trip from Washington's diplomatic work," Niu added.

Barack Obama will not visit China during a trip to Asia in April that will take him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. Niu said the visit by the US first lady will "show intimacy with China".

Hillary Clinton was the last US first lady to visit China without her spouse. She arrived in Beijing in 1995 to attend the fourth United Nations World Conference on Women.

Niu said Michelle Obama's visit will greatly increase Chinese people's interest and curiosity about the US first family. "It will also draw the two nations closer and reduce some people's dislike of the US, which has been triggered by Washington's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region."

Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution, said Michelle's China visit is "more than just a trip".

"It shows the respect, care and goodwill for China," Li said. "She is setting a personal example to showcase the importance of the US-China relationship."

She has made similar trips abroad without her husband.

In 2010, she went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake to assess the damage and then to Mexico to promote youth engagement. In 2011, she visited Botswana and South Africa to promote youth leadership and education.


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