First lady's soft diplomacy

Updated: 2014-03-24 08:28

(China Daily USA)

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US first lady Michelle Obama is on a week-long visit to China that focuses on educational and cultural exchanges. Given that the United States' first ladies are unique ambassadors for the country, the trip represents "gentle diplomacy" on the part of Washington, says a Xinhua commentary.

Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, deepening relations with Beijing has been one of his foreign policy priorities, and bilateral ties have generally moved in the right direction.

However, the globally significant trans-Pacific relationship has also witnessed strain due to some irresponsible moves by Washington, such as its meddling in South China Sea territorial disputes and Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama last month.

In addition, Obama's "pivot to Asia" strategy has generated new uncertainties in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly East Asia, to the detriment of Washington's own trustworthiness.

Against such a background, Michelle's trip is especially meaningful. For starters, it comes on the 35th anniversary of the establishment of China-US diplomatic relations.

Though dedicated to promoting people-to-people interaction between the two nations, the visit presents a unique opportunity to boost mutual understanding and promote broader bilateral ties.

Moreover, a strengthened personal bond between the first families of China and the US will naturally help generate better understanding and more common ground between Beijing and Washington.

Of particular significance is Michelle's rich interaction with Chinese students, which will help boost friendship between the younger generations of the two nations, who shoulder the future of bilateral relations.

The first lady is steering clear of politics, human rights, trade disputes and other bilateral differences, issues that are better handled via official diplomacy.

That approach is right.

The uniqueness of the role of first ladies is its soft touch and freedom from the knottiness and even ugliness of hard politics.

Although it would be naive to expect the first lady's visit to iron out all differences between China and the US, it is safe to say that a successful visit by Michelle will infuse fresh vigor into the development of bilateral relations.

(China Daily USA 03/24/2014 page11)