First lady Michelle Obama’s visit to China is not going to veer into thorny topics about human rights, but will be focused on, “people to people connections,” according to one White House staffer. Another staffer said the international travel is a "real treat" for Ms. Obama's mother.
In this March 14, 2014 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama speaks in Washington. When Michelle Obama arrives in China later this week, she will stress the message that she's carried on past trips outside the U.S. It's about the importance of education for young people around the world, and the role Mrs. Obama says education played in helping her get ahead in her own life. She departs Wednesday on her third solo international trip as first lady. The weeklong journey to China includes stops in Beijing and two other cities where she is to meet with school and university students, as well as tour some of China's historic cultural sites. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File
The first lady along with her mother Marian Robinson and daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama will be traveling to China on Wednesday and stay through March 26. It is an official trip where she will meet with Chinese officials and the first lady of China.
"Before they came here to the White House, Ms. Robinson had not done any travel internationally, so the opportunities when she’s been able to do that have been a real treat I think for Mrs. Robinson, for the First Lady, for her daughters as well to travel together and to see these places and experience them together," said the first lady’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, herself a first generation Chinese American.
The first lady has traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America with her family since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
During a conference call with reporter Monday, White House officials were asked several times about what the first lady would say regarding human rights.
“I don’t think the first lady will make that a focus at all of her trip,” said White Hosue Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes in a conference call with reporters. “This is a different focus. It’s about people to people connections.”
China has stood out for it's booming economy in recent years, but the communist country is also known for suppressing speech and religious freedom and its one-child policy.
The focus will rather be on cultural exchange with a focus on education and young people.
This is a break from former first lady Hillary Clinton’s well-known 1995 speech in China where she famously criticized the government of China for it’s treatment of women.
Rhodes pointed out that Clinton was speaking at a human rights conference and that Ms. Obama’s trip will be a “different context.”
The first lady’s own biography of being a minority, growing up with working class parents and achieving great success in a society where people have free expression and have opportunities will be an example of human rights that is “woven into the American DNA,” Rhodes said.
“What the First Lady really brings is the power of her own story, the power of American values,” Rhodes said.
The fist lady will visit Beijing from March 20-23, Xi’an on March 24, and Chengdu from March 25-26, according to the White House.
When Hillary Clinton traveled to China in September 1995 for the Fourth World Conference on Women, she said, "It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights.”
"It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small" she continued, or "when thousands of women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.”