First Lady's visit to promote non-governmental exchanges between China, US

First Lady Michelle Obama arrives to speak at the Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, March 14, 2014. Photo: AP

The following seven days will be a hurry-scurry but challenging week for me as I am assigned to cover the week-long visit of US First Lady Michelle Obama to China, where she will promote education, use of technology in education, study abroad opportunities and people-to-people exchanges.

During the trip, Mrs. Obama will be accompanied by her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, a gesture that shows her respect for China's long-standing traditional values, which see the status of family as sacrosanct.

Commenting on the purpose of her trip to three Chinese cities—Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu, the White House said that the First Lady will be focusing on the power and importance of education both in her own life and in the lives of young people in both countries

"She will also be visiting important historical and cultural sites in China, and will share with students in the US the stories of the students she meets in China, as well as interesting facts about China's history and culture—emphasizing the importance of students learning from one another globally,” the White House said.

Ahead of Mrs. Obama's trip, some American scholars and politicians wanted her to raise politically sensitive issues such as human rights and trade friction during her China trip, but she refused, saying that she did not want to have politics involved in her trip to China.

Hence, the education-focused visit is widely seen as soft diplomacy, which is adopted by the US to ease tensions between China and the US at a time when the two counties are divided over China's territorial disputes with US allies Japan and the Philippines in the East and South China Seas, China's human-rights record and Russia's annexation of Crimea.

In my opinion, Mrs. Obama's visit to China can promote non-governmental exchanges between China and the US to some extent, but it cannot fundamentally oscillate the essence of the bilateral relationship which is driven by national interest.

In a sense, Mrs. Obama would like to take the opportunity of the visit to offset her absence from last year's family meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at Sunnylands and to clear Chinese doubts over US sincerity of building a new type of great power relationship, which is caused by the exclusion of a trip to China by US President Barack Obama, who will tour Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in late April.

Anyway, Mrs. Obama comes to China with a message of goodwill and friendship, and the visit is likely to be different from the previous visits by US First Ladies.


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