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Michelle Obama, kids will visit China

Updated: 2014-03-04 12:39
By Chen Weihua in Washington ( China Daily USA)

US first lady Michelle Obama will embark on another solo international trip, this time to China.

During the week-long trip from March 19-26, she will be accompanied by her two daughters Malia and Sasha and her mother Marian Robinson. The trip was announced on Monday morning by the first lady on the White House blog and press release.

US President Barack Obama won't join her on the trip. Instead, his scheduled trip to several European nations and Saudi Arabia will overlap part of the China trip.

Mrs Obama will be visiting Beijing from March 20-23, Xi'an on March 24 and Chengdu from March 25-26.

During her trip, she will meet Peng Liyuan, China's first lady and wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two did not meet when Xi met Obama for an informal summit at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California, last June, when Mrs Obama had to stay in Washington. But the two first ladies both delivered video greetings last December at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington during a naming ceremony for a panda cub.

The White House said that during the trip Mrs Obama will be focusing on the importance of education in her own life and in the lives of young people in both countries.

Mrs Obama said she will meet young people to hear about their challenges, hopes and dreams, as she has done on other trips. "And that's what I'll be doing in China as well," she blogged.

"During my trip, I'll be visiting a university and two high schools in Beijing and Chengdu. I will be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear," she wrote.

The first lady encouraged US students to follow her activities during the trip on a daily travel blog she will be posting, complete with videos and photos, as well as answering questions from children across the US.

"I'll also be visiting various historical and cultural sites in China, and I look forward to sharing with you the stories of the students I meet, as well as the interesting facts I learn about Chinese history and culture," she wrote.

Mrs Obama has made similar trips abroad without her husband. In 2010, she went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake to assess the damage and then to Mexico to promote youth engagement. In 2011, she went to Botswana and South Africa to promote youth leadership and education.

Describing China as another important stop on her international journey, the first lady wrote: "With more than 1.3 billion people, China is the most populous country on Earth, and it plays an important role on the world stage."

"My husband and I take the time to visit countries like China because we know that today, more than ever, our lives here in America are connected to the lives of people around the world," she said.

Obama visited China in November 2009 during his first year as president, and he is expected to pay a second trip there this fall when China hosts the APEC summit.

To prepare for the China visit, Mrs. Obama was scheduled to visit the Yu Ying Public Charter School Monday. The school in northeast Washington is known for its Chinese-immersion program.

Besides encouraging US students to follow her trip, she will deliver brief, informal remarks following a 6th grade presentation on their 2013 trip to China, and visit pre-kindergarten students in their classroom to experience their language learning firsthand, according to the White House.

Sasha, the younger daughter who is 12, has been studying Chinese. In January 2011, she spoke in Chinese with then Chinese president Hu Jintao.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters at the time that Sasha practiced some Mandarin phrases with Hu following the ceremonies to welcome him to the White House.

"Not every child has the opportunity to try out their first phrases of Chinese with the president of China," Rhodes said. "I think that speaks to there is an interest in the United States and China, and a desire to get to know the country better,"

At the Sidwell Friends School which Sasha and Malia attend, a Monday evening reception and speech on US-China relations by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was postponed as the federal government and schools shut down due to a snow storm.

The school's Zeidman Memorial Lecture invites prominent figures to speak on the bilateral relations every spring. It was started in 1983 with the first speaker being John Fairbank, the noted China scholar at Harvard University.

Sidwell, where many children and grandchildren of notable US politicians now attend or have attended, including those of some presidents and vice presidents, has an extensive Chinese study program and maintains exchange programs with schools in China.

On the school's website, several students now traveling and studying in China have been constantly updating the China Fieldwork Semester Blog, sharing their experience in Xizhou, a small town in southwest China's Yunnan province.

Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution and last year's Zeidman Memorial Lecture speaker, said the first lady's visit is a goodwill gesture.

"More than just a trip, it shows the respect, care and goodwill for China," Li said. "She is setting a personal example to showcase the importance of US-China relationship."

chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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