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Michelle Obama’s Absence at US-China Summit, Chinese Reactions

First Ladies: China's Peng Liyuan and the United States' Michelle Obama.

First Ladies: China's Peng Liyuan and the United States' Michelle Obama.

From QQ:

Michelle Obama’s Absence from US-China Summit Criticized as “Diplomatic Own-Goal”

US media recently reported that First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama will not be attending the “Xi-Obama” [US-China Presidents] summit held at California’s Annenberg Estate. The White House’s explanation claimed Obama’s daughter is about to graduate and Michelle will remain in Washington with her two children. However, previously, both American and European media were very much looking forward to seeing the two First Ladies appearing side by side at Annenberg Estate.

“She should be in California.”

With regards to Michelle’s absence, the White House’s “Office of The First Lady” explained to the New York Times that because Obama’s daughter is about to graduate soon, the First Lady wants to be with them, so she will remain in Washington this weekend. But the White House would not provide any further information regarding her plans for the weekend.

US Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy professor Daniel Drezner believes Michelle’s decision is a “diplomatic own-goal” which would greatly affect the informal tone of the US-China Summit. “She should be in California”. The New York Times report also believes that Michelle’s abrupt absence, the US may need a better reason of explanation.

“Michelle should go to California rather than remain in Washington to be with her daughter,” Drezner said, “attending the US-China Summit is the First Lady of the United States’s moment to make and impact on world politics.”


For an informal meeting which aims to establish a personal relationship between Obama and Xi Jinping rather than one of reaching substantive agreements, Michelle’s absence would make this diplomatic event less than impressive,” Drezner said.

Misperceptions of the US side?

According to US media reports, Obama flew to California on the evening of the 6th, while on the same day, Michelle was in the capital Washington DC attending a political fundraising dinner party held by Terry McAuliffe, who is running to be Governor of Virginia state.

The Washington Post commented that Michelle’s decision to remain in Washington is not sensible. “To see it from the US side, Michelle’s decision is understandable, she doesn’t want to attend this summit and miss her daughter’s graduation. But from China’s perspective, it may not look that way.” The Washington Post believes Michelle’s action at a time where the US and China urgently need to establish a relationship of trust is a kind of ‘setback’.

“Michelle is viewed as a star in China, attending the US-China Summit would add no small amount of luster for both the US and China. When the White House is trying to make a favorable impression on China, what Michelle Obama did is not appropriate,” the report says.

Screenshot of UK's Telegraph website: Michelle Obama 'snubs' China's first lady.

Unhappy just a few days ago

Michelle has received much attention from the American media these past few days, the reason being that she had a verbal conflict with a protester at a speech she was giving.

On the evening of the 4th US time, while attending a Democratic National Committee fundraising activity and giving a speech, Michelle had a verbal conflict with a protester who constantly interrupted her speech, with this woman subsequently “escorted out”. US media commented that Michelle’s behavior demonstrated an extreme attitude toward people who hold different opinions, and as a result may lose supporters. (Reported by Han Xuyang of Beijing News)

Both European and American Media disappointed by Michelle’s absence

Recently, European and American media, including the Washington Post and the UK’s Daily Telegraph, were all looking forward to the meeting of the First Ladies of the US and China. US media have said that the two women of around the same age, are both the First Ladies of powerful countries as well as leading figures in the fashion world, and would collide with sparks of fashion at the Annenbeg Estate.

Age, career, family and children… the UK’s BBC used pictures comparing the the status of the two First Ladies. The Daily Telegraph was even more detailed, making a comprehensive comparison of the two First Ladies with regards to the various aspects of age, title, height, birthplace, level of education, children’s education, even whether they have pets and their taste in wardrobe.

Previously, when Peng Liyuan accompanied Xi Jinping on visits in Latin America, European and the US media paid a lot of attention to this First Lady. The Daily Telegraph reported> that while Peng Liyuan accompanied Xi Jinping’s visit in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, “neither rain, the throngs jostling to see the visitors, nor the constant burst of camera flashes chronicling her public appearances flustered the impeccably dressed Chinese first lady.”

After the end of the trip to Latin America, both European and the US media were looking forward to seeing the two charismatic First Ladies appearing together at the California manor, but Michelle’s “rain check” means this scene will remain in imaginations for now.

Screenshot of UK's Telegraph website: Michelle Obama v Peng Liyuan: the matchup we won't see.
UK’s The Daily Telegraph website compares the First Ladies of the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America, and is disappointed about Michelle’s absence.

Comments on QQ:

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腾讯保山市网友 颓废的橡皮擦 :

When it comes to the affairs of a nation, the First lady basically doesn’t have power to influence major issues or policy. Our First Lady can magnanimously and proactively use the media to express her congratulations on Obama’s daughter’s graduation or use a representative to send a congratulatory gift! This is the kind of poise that the First Lady of the most powerful country in the world should have.

腾讯网友 G&F :

The US media claims Michelle’s “diplomatic own-goals” are mainly:
1. That Chinese people can be seen “taking care of the big family over the small family” [interests of the many over the interests of the few], shows American Michelle’s selfishness;
2. Michelle is black, so standing beside Peng may damage the image of the First Lady of the United States;
3. Slapping Obama and Americans in the face, which is to say Michelle is dissatisfied with her husband Obama and America;
4. Obama arrived early to welcome President Xi to compensate for Mrs. Obama’s rude attitude.

腾讯网友 乐乐:

We can see that China hopes for an all-around exchange/interaction, but the United States does not, putting it’s own interests first, only holding talks when it’s in their interest, and not holding talks when it isn’t. That’s the United States for you!!

腾讯网友 雾:

Michelle is afraid of standing beside our First Lady because regardless of whether it is appearance or dress or bearing, she cannot match our First Lady, so she it can be said she’s quite self-aware.

腾讯阜阳市网友 平平仄:

I bet Obama and his Mrs. Obama be meeting each other in the Civil Affairs Bureau in two-three months [suggesting marital problems].

腾讯晋城市网友 好心情*慎言:

Could it be the same reason as Putin’s? A falling-out [between husband and wife]?

腾讯上海市网友 龙飘飘:

“Isn’t it a joyous occasion to have a friend visit from afar?” “A host that ignores a guest may be an idiot.”

腾讯徐州市网友 处长:

Very good, shows that the Americans are like the Chinese in attaching a lot of importance on test scores, as well as showing that Michelle has her own difficulties too.

腾讯扬州市网友 铸造工人 2013-06-07 04:53:21

Afraid of being shown-up, doesn’t dare show her face.

腾讯成都市网友 明智光秀 2013-06-07 04:12:44

An expression of insecurity/lack of confidence, that’s all I can say.

腾讯网友 ℡可乐王子&:

Are family affairs are more important than national affairs? Unless they don’t take you seriously.

腾讯网友 麒麟勇士:

Ridiculous! Is the participation of the “First Ladies” that important to the “Xi-Obama” summit?

腾讯网友 我行我素:

This just shows their disrespect to you! She’s a Harvard Ph.D, brilliant. 180cm in height and a devilish figure. Wake up, my fellow countrymen, stop fantasizing/day-dreaming! Self-improvement is the only way out.

腾讯网友 空山新雨:

I support Michelle’s choice very much, children come first, and [dealing with] state affairs is what presidents do.

腾讯网友盐城市 邓妈妈: (responding to above)

Well said, [Michelle Obama] should treat herself as an ordinary mother, be with her children, so people will respect her!

腾讯网友 爱雁屋玫琳凯: (responding to above)

As a First Lady, she is no longer just an ordinary mother. What she represents is no longer just herself and what she has is no longer just her own family, as she is the mother of a nation. Because her daughter is about to graduate, so she doesn’t attend an exchange between nations. Do you think this is right? I am also a mother, and I also love my children, but some things still need to prioritized.

腾讯网友 悠雨流星: (responding to above)

You don’t have the right to dictate what she should do, unless you are a US citizen.

腾讯网友杭州市 独诚一就: (responding to above)

So you are an American!? China should not have people like you!

腾讯网友 diaren: (responding to above)

It’s not that simple.

腾讯网友重庆市 波仔: (responding to above)

The thoughts of the ordinary people is that she just doesn’t want to play with you.

腾讯网友 SUN: (responding to above)

What’s important and what isn’t is something the First Lady of the United States knows! It’s not for you or I to worry about!!

腾讯网友腾讯网友 孤岛野人: (responding to above)

How come I get the feeling that our boss [Xi Jinping] has been stood up?

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