As some of you know, Michelle Obama will be traveling to China this week along with her mother and two daughters. According to the White House, the First Lady will be making several visits throughout Beijing, Xi’An, and Chengdu. The purpose of the trip is to foster and enhance relations between the United States and China—which has developed greatly over the past decade.
Unlike visits from past first ladies, Obama’s approach will be geared more toward public diplomacy—rather than policy—by focusing on educating young people. Her decision to steer away from political controversies is different compared to Hillary Clinton’s visit in 1995 where she condemned China’s human rights record, and Laura Bush’s visit in 2008 where she accused China of not putting enough pressure on the Burmese regime.
Throughout her trip, Obama will be visiting important historic and cultural sites in China, as well as different academic institutions, to speak to students about the importance of education and also share the values of the United States.
Many scholars have expressed skepticism over the First Lady’s strategy in her visit to China. While some argue that Obama should have a more political approach on some of the controversies in China, others argue that her soft approach is a reflection on her agenda to promote education, empower the youth, and reduce obesity.
Obama’s choice for public diplomacy over policy is definitely an approach that will appeal to the people of China. Although she is focusing on educating young people, her soft approach will have a significant impact on the country’s policy, albeit indirectly.