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US First Lady Set for Education-Focused Trip to China

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama is set to start a week-long visit to China focusing on education. Her trip is not expected to feature controversial subjects, such as human rights.

Last week the White House announced Michelle Obama would take her mother and two daughters to China from March 19 to March 26, for a trip that will focus on culture and education.

While visiting a special Chinese language school in Washington this month, Mrs. Obama emphasized that no matter where she traveld, she was most concerned with education, and traveling to China would be no exception.

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Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia Affairs Advisor Bonnie Glaser believed that making visits without political overtones has been a consistent way of doing things for the first lady.

"I think that Michelle Obama has made two prior trips abroad. She has not focused on controversial issues anywhere. And she has not really given public speeches. So I don't think she will give a public speech in China. I think she prefers to focus on specific issues that are important to her, and education is clearly her priority on this trip," she said.

Glaser said that Sino-American relations were complex, but that Michelle Obama may reinforce the U.S.-China relationship in a broader way.

"She will do what she can to strengthen the U.S.-China relationship. And particularly people-to-people exchanges. This is an agenda item that has been identified both by Beijing and Washington as being important for the relationship. To have more exchanges between youth, between experts and all walks of life. And so I think she will contribute to that part of the relationship," she said.

Controversial statements from a U.S. First Lady are not unheard of.

In 1995, then-U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton visited Beijing and participated in the U.N.’s 4th World Conference on Women. While there, she caused controversy by attacking China’s human rights record.

Laura Bush normally avoided controversial remarks. While visiting the Burma-Thailand border region six years ago, however, she criticized Beijing for not putting enough pressure on the then military government in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Mrs. Obama and her family will visit Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu. They also will meet with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.