BEIJING - After a long journey from Washington, US first lady Michelle Obama landed in Beijing on Thursday evening, starting her long-awaited trip to China with a big smile and a wave.
When Obama, in an elegant black dress, stepped out of the plane with her mother and two teenager daughters, dozens of reporters that had waited in the airport for hours incessantly clicked their camera shutters.
Though nobody from the delegation spoke to the media, the first lady's brief debut spread quickly on Chinese media and micro blogs, where users discussed what she would wear and eat, and how she will interact with Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan.
"It is another innovation in the history of Chinese diplomacy" and helps both sides' leaders strengthen their personal relations, said Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies.
Ruan was referring to the latest "creative" laid-back meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, at the Sunnylands resort in California last June, soon after Xi assumed office.
Peng, Xi's wife, accompanied her husband on the Sunnylands visit but did not meet Michelle Obama, who was in Washington. Her absence left some Chinese disappointed and more excited about the "make-up" meeting.
On Friday, Michelle Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is to spend almost the whole day with Peng. The two first ladies will visit a high school in Beijing, stroll inside the Forbidden City, eat Peking duck and watch a performance together.
"The meeting of the two first ladies shows that China is more open and is getting more involved with the international community," Ruan said.
The US side also kept a high-profile tone about the first lady's third solo trip abroad. The White House website dedicated a special page for the visit and released a detailed schedule of the weeklong, three-city tour before her arrival. Michelle Obama will post a daily travel blog, including videos and photos, to share her experience in China. She will also record video responses and engage directly with young people on social media.
Earlier this month, Obama visited the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School - a Chinese immersion school - to get tips on her China visit from schoolchildren. She also encouraged students to follow her trip.
Chen Mingming, former Chinese ambassador to New Zealand and Switzerland, said although Obama said she would focus on education and youth empowerment, her Chinese trip should not be interpreted as a personal visit.
"It reflects the importance Barack Obama attaches to Washington's relations with Beijing," said Chen, referring to her previous solo visit to African countries on behalf of the US president.
Chen also noted that Michelle Obama taking along her mother, Marian Robinson, and two daughters, Malia and Sasha, reflects a smart characteristic of US diplomacy.
"It is like saying that 'Not only do my husband and I cherish relations with China, our whole family all support the relations'," Chen said, adding the move can easily trigger resonance in family-oriented China and bring the leaders closer to the ordinary people of both countries.
The Obamas will also tour the Great Wall; see the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province; and visit a panda reserve in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Obama will also deliver speeches on bilateral cooperation in education during the tour.
"The colorful episode in China-US diplomacy will serve as a strong complement to exchanges of the two presidents and raise friendly emotions toward each other among peoples of the two nations," said Ruan.
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