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No Michelle at the summit? Chinese see a snub

June 06, 2013|By Barbara Demick
  • Michelle Obama speaks to children before they harvest the summer crop from the White House kitchen garden. The first lady will skip Friday's summit with China's president because she doesn't want to miss her daughters' last week of school.
Michelle Obama speaks to children before they harvest the summer crop from… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

BEIJING -- It is not bad that Xi Jinping is getting a three-day visit with President Obama. But the one whom many Chinese wanted their president and first lady to meet was actually Michelle.

Among Chinese commentators, the absence of the American first lady at the summit this weekend in Rancho Mirage is causing consternation. The meeting was supposed to be a relaxed, get-acquainted event and Xi is bringing his own wife, the photogenic singer Peng Liyuan.

"In terms of diplomatic etiquette, Chinese will definitely feel that the United States is lacking unless they can come up with a really solid excuse,"’ said Deng Yuwen, a foreign policy commentator in Beijing.

The public explanation offered up by the White House -- that the first lady doesn’t want to miss her daughters’ last week of school -- doesn’t pass muster with Chinese.  After all, aren’t there baby-sitters in the United States?

Many described Michelle’s no-show as a snub or in more Chinese terms, a “loss of face.”

"The decadent American imperialists don’t give us 'face.' Who is more important, children or creditors?’’ wrote one commentator, referring to U.S. debts to China.

"In addition to the lack of hospitality, it was very reasonable for the two families to meet since Obama wants to develop personal relations,’’ wrote a commentator using the name Zhan Hao.

There was some speculation that Michelle Obama deliberately wanted to avoid Peng because the Chinese first lady spent her career as a singer for the Peoples’ Liberation Army, crooning Chinese propaganda. Most famously, she is reported to have serenaded Chinese troops who conducted the brutal crackdown on civilian pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989 at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

"Peng was a soldier once herself but now she is the first lady of China. For Michelle Obama, attending to your children is not an excuse to miss such an important summit,’’ said Deng.

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