BEIJING— U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in China Thursday for a six-day visit, along with her daughters and mother. White House officials say the trip will focus largely on education, cross-cultural ties and empowering youth.
Before Mrs. Obama's arrival in Beijing, Chinese state-media reports were emphasizing the visit, calling it a sequel to last year's informal get together in Sunnylands, California, between President Barack Obama and China's Xi Jinping.
The first day of her trip will be spent with her Chinese counterpart in Beijing, Xi's wife - first lady Peng Liyuan. The two will visit a school, the Forbidden City, and attend a performance after dinner.
The capital's popular Beijing News talked about how "first lady diplomacy" could play a unique role in U.S.-China relations. It also remarked how the trip is in sharp contrast to what it called the "double standards" of U.S. cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism and the lack of trust over territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea.
The article said Mrs. Obama would be visiting when there are not any immediate frictions in areas such as human rights.
However just last week, Chinese rights activist Cao Shunli died after falling critically ill in prison. A U.N. investigative report on China's human rights record is scheduled to be adopted by the world body in Geneva Wednesday. The visit also comes just days after two more Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule.
Despite their differences, China and the United States are trying to build a new type of relationship, one between great nations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said both sides see the trip as contributing to that effort.
"This trip is made when the two countries are building a new model of country relationship. It is of great significance to the relationship between the two countries," the spokesman said.
The Beijing publication Youth Daily highlighted how education is expected to be a key focus of the trip, with visits to three schools including Peking University.
Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama's Chief of Staff, says that during the trip the first lady will be focusing on the power of technology and her own story.
"We think [that] resonates with young people around the world," Tchen explained. "As someone from a modest background -- she has parents who didn't go to college but who emphasized education always to the First Lady and her brother, encouraged them to use education as a way to succeed and move forward."
Mrs. Obama will stay in Beijing until Sunday, visit the Great Wall other attractions and deliver a speech at Peking University's Stanford Center among other activities. On Monday, the First Lady, her daughters and mother travel on to Xian to visit China's Xi'an City Wall and Chegdu.
Although the trip has been tightly scripted, it is still possible that sensitive issues could arise.
Blogger Michael Anti notes that while Xian is an historic stop on the trip it is also the site of a brewing controversy in China about kindergarten children being given prescription drugs without the consent of their parents.
"It will be very interesting when Michelle visit's Xian and talks about the whole importance of children to both countries and how the Internet will connect the story with the scandal because it is so direct you can connect them.," Anti said. "I think it will be a very tough day for Chinese Internet censors."
Anti said the trip could also help smooth over the fact that when President Obama comes to Asia in April he will not be visiting China.