Michelle Obama meets with students in Beijing

Updated: 2014-03-21 13:15

By Zhao Shengnan and Li Xiaokun in Beijing and Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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 Michelle Obama meets with students in Beijing

US first lady Michelle Obama visited students at the Second High School attached to Beijing Normal University Friday morning with her daughters, where they had a demonstration and hands-on lesson in Chinese calligraphy. The Obamas' landmark trip will focus on the importance of education and strengthening US-China ties through person-to-person contact. Li Xiaokun / China Daily

Michelle Obama meets with students in Beijing

On Friday morning, US first lady Michelle Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, visited a high school in Beijing with the accompany of Peng Liyuan, President Xi Jinping's wife.

After that, the two is to stroll inside the Forbidden City, eat Peking duck and watch a performance together.

Mrs Obama landed in Beijing on Thursday evening, starting her long-awaited trip to China with a big smile and a wave.

When Mrs Obama, in an elegant color-blocked dress by Chinese-American designer Derek Lam, stepped out of the plane with her two teenage daughters Malia and Sasha and her mother Marian Robinson, dozens of reporters that had waited in the airport for hours incessantly clicked their camera shutters.

Though nobody from the delegation spoke to the media, the first lady's brief debut spread quickly on Chinese media and micro blogs, where users discussed what she would wear and eat, and how she will interact with Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan.

"It is another innovation in the history of Chinese diplomacy" and helps both sides' leaders strengthen their personal relations, said Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies.

Ruan was referring to the latest "creative" laid-back meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, at the Sunnylands resort in California last June, soon after Xi assumed office.

Peng, Xi's wife, accompanied her husband on the Sunnylands visit but did not meet Mrs. Obama, who was in Washington. Her absence left some Chinese disappointed and more excited about the "make-up" meeting.

The Twitter account Flotus, maintained by the White House first lady's office which stands for First Lady of The United States, quickly posted the arrival photo.

"She looks stunning, as always! Nice to also see the First Grandmother!" responded the account Colorsizzle. "You look wonderful and so do your beautiful girls!" said Dianeloves2.

"You will love it. It's a very beautiful place. Oh, don't forget to go to the Great Wall," said Efemenaa. "Make sure you try different foods in Chengdu," said Jingles66.

"The meeting of the two first ladies shows that China is more open and is getting more involved with the international community," Ruan said.

The US side also kept a high-profile tone about the first lady's third solo trip abroad. The White House website dedicated a special page for the visit and released a detailed schedule of the weeklong, three-city tour before her arrival. Mrs Obama will post a daily travel blog, including videos and photos, to share her experience in China. She will also record video responses and engage directly with young people on social media.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Obama visited the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School - a Chinese immersion school - to get tips on her China visit from schoolchildren. She also encouraged students to follow her trip.

Robert Kapp, a former president of the US-China Business Council who now advises US firms about China, wrote on the ChinaFile blog run by New York-based Asia Society that he is certain that Mrs Obama "will convey directly to Madame Peng and to the Chinese people a sincere message of mutual respect, shared humanity, sober awareness of unfinished societal tasks and global responsibilities, and genuine celebration of their loved ones, starting with Presidents Xi and Obama".

The meeting of the two first ladies will come just days before their husbands meet bilaterally on the sidelines of the Third Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague of the Netherlands next week, tackling some of the most urgent global crisis, such as the one unfolding in Ukraine.

"I am certain, without bombast or a barrage of cliches, the first lady in particular will contribute to a more full-bodied Chinese understanding of our nation and our people," said Kapp, who was also a historian of 20th century China.

Chen Mingming, former Chinese ambassador to New Zealand and Switzerland, said although Mrs. Obama said she would focus on education and youth empowerment, her Chinese trip should not be interpreted as a personal visit.

"It reflects the importance Barack Obama attaches to Washington's relations with Beijing," said Chen, referring to her previous solo visit to African countries on behalf of the US president.

Chen also noted that Mrs. Obama's bringing her mother and two daughters reflects a smart characteristic of US diplomacy.

"It is like saying that 'Not only do my husband and I cherish relations with China, our whole family all support the relations,'" Chen said, adding that the move can easily trigger resonance in family-oriented China and bring the leaders closer to the ordinary people of both countries.

The Obamas will also tour the Great Wall, see the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, and visit a panda reserve in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

The two first ladies both delivered a video speech last December at the naming ceremony for the 100-day-old panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

"The colorful episode in China-US diplomacy will serve as a strong complement to exchanges of the two presidents and raise friendly emotions toward each other among peoples of the two nations," said Ruan.

Personal visits to foreign countries by US first ladies, which date back to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, have become an important duty and responsibility for contemporary first ladies.

US first ladies Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama have made 37 foreign trips without their husbands at their sides over the past 20 years.

Chinese experts hailed the visit as "a new dimension in the architecture of Sino-US relations" and said Michelle Obama's every step and syllable along the tour will send shockwaves through the media outlets of both countries.

Contact the writers at zhaoshengnan@chinadaily.com.cn and lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn

 Michelle Obama meets with students in Beijing


Pat Nixon attends a class during a visit to China in 1972.

Betty Ford participates in a dancing class during a visit to Beijing Dance School in December 1975.

Barbara Bush poses with a Chinese girl during a visit to Beijing in February 1989.

Hillary Clinton with her family during a tour of the Lijiang River in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in July 1998.

Laura Bush learns Chinese noodle making at the US embassy in Beijing in February 2002.

Nancy Reagan visits the Great Wall with President Ronald Reagan in April 1984. Photos Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 03/21/2014 page1)