In what may be a quid-pro-quo move, Michelle Obama is making a trip to China with her daughters and mother only a few weeks after China excoriated Barack Obama for meeting with the Dalai Lama. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes explained,
The nature of her visit is really quite different. What the first lady really brings is the power of her own story, the power of American values … (It is a) critical opportunity to continue to build connections with the Chinese leadership and also the Chinese public … Her visit and her agenda send a message that the relationship between the United States and China is not just between leaders; it’s a relationship between peoples. Her focus on people-to-people relations, her focus on education and youth empowerment is one that we believe will resonate with China.
Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, continued the puffery, loftily stating that the opportunity for cultural and educational changes is “not only good for those individuals in their own careers but is really vital for our competitiveness in the global economy.”
The White House was quick to insist that the trip would not involve a discussion of any foreign policy differences, such as human rights or trade issues. The trip could easily be seen as a pleasure trip; the Obamas will visit the famous terra-cotta warriors, a panda nursery, and the ancient city of Xian.
Despite Obama’s meeting with the Dali Lama triggering ire from the Chinese government, there is no question that the Chinese are fond of Obama. In contrast with their welcome of Michelle Obama, after British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in 2012, China severed high-level diplomatic ties with the UK for about a year.
But Rhodes insisted Michelle Obama’s visit had nothing to do with the uproar over the Dalai Lama’s visit, mewing, “We had planned this trip long before the Dalai Lama visit … (there is) no question or dispute on where the United States stands on … human rights.”