The Obama/Robinson women are in China now, without a man and without the press, so how’s it going so far?
Obama, who is visiting China with her mother and two daughters, is expected to forgo discussion of trade, human rights and the tangle of other issues that have weighed on U.S.-China relations. Instead, she plans to focus on building goodwill through soft diplomacy.
Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan accompanied the visitors on a visit to the Beijing Normal School attended by elite Chinese students and American teenagers from prestigious schools such as Exeter, Andover and Sidwell Friends on study abroad programmes.
Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, wore wide-legged black slacks and a loose black vest.
Good to know! Of course, if that sentence isn’t a non-sequitur—two, actually!—I don’t know my non-sequiturs. (What relevance do her slacks have to her law degree? What relevance does her law degree have to her family vacation on the public’s dime?)
Peng, dressed immaculately in a cornflower-blue skirt suit, with a red leather clutch and matching stud earrings, appeared to speak limited English, but gamely ventured a few comments to foreign students and the Obama family.
Is that a shot at Michelle’s frumpy outfit?
Deserved, if it is.
But if we’re to get the real story of the First Lady’s Beijing junket (no press), we’ll have to go to the source:
After a long flight from Washington, D.C. – one that took around 20 hours – my mother, my daughters, and I arrived in Beijing to begin our official visit to China. Our first stop was at the Beijing Normal School, where we were hosted by Madam Peng Liyuan, the First Lady of China.
Madam Peng (her name is pronounced “Pung”) first became known to the Chinese people long before she was First Lady.
Pronounced “Pung”? Who knew? Betcha NPR wouldn’t know that.
As my family and I can attest from our time together at the Beijing Normal School, Madam Peng is a warm and gracious host. And this visit was a perfect opportunity to highlight the themes of my trip: the value of education and the importance of cultural exchanges between young people in different countries.
About 800 students attend the Beijing Normal School, and of those, roughly one in four are international students – including some Americans. All the classes are taught in English (one room even has a map of the United States on the ceiling), and the curriculum prepares students to study internationally once they graduate. Many students here hope to one day attend college in America.
Which opportunity will be denied to them to make room for affirmative action students. (Am I wrong?)
Madam Peng and I first visited a class where students were actually building their own robots, and they were kind enough to do a demonstration for us. The first robot we saw could actually walk over obstacles. Another one, which was shaped like a triangle, was referred to as “bad boy” by its student creators (one of them explained to us that this robot is “really naughty”).
It holds up little signs that say “I’m Falun Gong!” and “Free Ai Weiwei!”
I jest. But Nixon went to China in 1972 and we’re still playing ping-pong diplomacy 42 years later?
After the robotics class, we stopped by a ping pong practice session where I got some tips from the instructor and then had the chance to play with one of the students. She was excellent (though I think she may have gone easy on me, just to be nice).
Isn’t that sweet?
Look, there’s a role for this sort of thing, I guess. But isn’t it fair to say that Michelle’s personal ambitions (not least wanderlust) are covering up some very real problems? China’s human rights abuses; its support of North Korea; its territorial ambitions; intellectual property theft—one could go on. And her insistence that she be the only reporter with direct access to the participants in the trip is disturbing, dare I say Chinese, in its authority. It’s like Jay Carney asking questions of himself in a news conference. (Oh wait.)
Can’t wait for tomorrow’s dispatch from the front lines: dinner and a show.