White House advisers on Monday described First Lady Michelle Obama's upcoming official trip to China as focused on cultural exchanges and the value of education, not on human rights and divisive issues they say are discussed when her husband speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"The nature of her visit is really quite different," said Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security advisor for Strategic Communications, on a conference call with reporters. "What the First Lady really brings is the power of her own story, the power of American values."
The first lady will tell of her own modest upbringing when she visits schools in Beijing and Chengdu, with a side trip to see the legendary terracotta warriors in the interior city of Xi'an. Teen daughter Malia Obama and her younger sister Sasha will be along during their spring break, as well as their grandmother Marian Robinson.
The three generations are meant to be a nod to the value Chinese put on family, according to Michelle Obama's Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, herself a first generation Chinese American. China's first lady Peng Liyuan will dine with Mrs. Obama in Beijing but there is no scheduled meeting with President Xi.
The first lady has been briefed by the West Wing's National Security Council staff, according to Rhodes, and Tchen says Michelle Obama got advice from 6th graders at a Washington D.C. charter school who visited China on an academic trip. The kind of contemporary political issues that former First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush tackled on their own trips to China are not on Michelle Obama's agenda when she travels starting Wednesday, March 19th.
No press pool of American reporters will be allowed to travel on her government aircraft during the trip, but the first lady will post her own accounts during her trip on the White House website.