Michelle Obama visited Peking University on Saturday during the second day of her weeklong stay in China, focusing her speech on the benefits of education and importance of human rights, specifically free speech.
Mrs. Obama, who turned 50 in January, addressed a large crowd consisting of both American and Chinese students at the noted university, and used the opportunity to draw parallels between the United States and China in regard to the accessibility of information. Mrs. Obama stressed the critical nature of an unfettered exchange of ideas in a society:
“That’s how we discover truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities and our country and our world,” Mrs. Obama explained. “And that’s how we decide which values and ideas we think are best — by questioning and debating them vigorously, by listening to all sides of every argument and by judging for ourselves.”
From all accounts, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s time in China as first lady, Mrs. Obama’s visit to China was designed to be politically innocuous, with the current first lady deploying methods of so-called soft diplomacy during the trip. However, Mrs. Obama’s remarks could in theory be received poorly in China, a country that features extremely rigid restrictions on the Internet. In addition, Mrs. Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in a meeting that was not on the original schedule, another insertion of politics into the trip.
Despite these indicators, Mrs. Obama is primarily concerned with promoting the virtue of educational exchange, a topic that was the de facto theme of the speech. Mrs. Obama discussed an initiative of the Obama White House that will facilitate sending an increasing number of American students with a variety of backgrounds to China:
“Our hope is to build connections between people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, because it is that diversity that truly will change the face of our relationships,” Mrs. Obama said.
In addition to the speech at Peking University and the impromptu meeting with President Xi, Mrs. Obama has already spent time with Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan, enjoying a calligraphy class and game of ping-pong at a Chinese school.
Zhang Taofu, a professor of journalism at Fudan University, referred to these types of activities as “first lady diplomacy”, and stated, “It’s often seen as providing rare soft adjustments to the blunt political confrontations.”
Mrs. Obama, along with her two daughters and mother, will be visiting the Great Wall on Sunday and are scheduled to depart for the United States on Wednesday.
[Image via Alexander F. Yuani/Associated Press]
[Video courtesy of euronews/YouTube]