First Lady Michelle Obama received an unscheduled greeting today from the President of China at the end of her first full day in the country, a place which President Obama has said he wants to “rebalance” US foreign policy.
But the first lady is not engaging in any formal talks on issues such as human rights or global politics. Her trip to China is purely for cultural reasons.
President Xi Jinping welcomed the first lady and disclosed he had spoken to President Obama by phone a few days ago and confirmed the two presidents are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting next week in Europe.
“I cherish my sound working relationship and personal friendship I have already established with your husband, and we stay in close touch through meetings, phone conversations and correspondence,” President Xi Jinping said.
Michelle Obama, along with her daughters and mother, spent the first of five days in China visiting schools with Xi’s wife, Madam Peng Liyuan, a popular Chinese singer. The first lady said she is focusing on education and cultural exchanges as she tours the capital Beijing and the interior cities of Xi’an and ChengDu.
At an English language high school in Beijing, the Obama women watched a robotics class, tried their hand at Chinese calligraphy and engaged in a little ping-pong diplomacy — the kind that opened relations with the United States more than a generation ago. They also toured the legendary Forbidden City with Madam Peng.
“We had a wonderful first day here in Beijing,” the first lady said. “We had an opportunity to meet with students, I tried my hand at ping pong — not so good. And our visit to the Forbidden City is one that we will never forget. Being able to see my mother, who doesn’t get to travel internationally often, walk through that ancient city, and to see her excitement and wonder is a moment that I will treasure forever.”
President Obama is traveling to Asia next month, but he is skipping China — stopping instead in Japan, South Korea, and two countries postponed from a cancelled trip last fall, The Philippines and Malaysia, which is currently managing the search for the missing Malaysian Air jetliner 370.
President Obama plans to visit China this fall for the annual APEC Economic summit.
You can watch the First Lady try her hand at ping pong in a video produced by the White House: