WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013 — On June 5th, The White House announced Michelle Obama would not be attending this weekend’s summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Californian ranch.
Michelle Obama’s absence will leave Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, without a U.S. counterpart.
One stated goal of the summit was to inject warmth into the U.S.-China relationship. Without Michelle Obama in attendance, that relationship will not extend to the two first ladies.
Mrs. Obama’s office cited domestic responsibilities as the reason she will not attend the summit. Next week is the last week of the school year for the Obamas’ daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.
China experts immediately warned U.S. officials that failure of America’s first lady to attend could have a chilling effect on a summit White House officials have billed as an “unprecedented” opportunity to heal divisions between the world’s two biggest economies.
Both Chinese and American analysts say the Chinese are likely to view Michelle Obama’s decision as a snub. Zhang Ming, a political scientist from China’s Renmin University, predicted Mrs. Obama’s absence would “not go down very well” in Beijing.
“First lady diplomacy is also very important and the U.S. side has failed to cooperate,” he said. “According to normal diplomatic etiquette this is very strange. It shouldn’t be like this.
“Maybe Michelle [Obama] doesn’t like Xi Jinping - or maybe she is just really busy,” Prof Zhang speculated. “But being busy shouldn’t be an excuse for missing an event like this.”
Several leading US commentators agreed. “Michelle Obama not attending the summit is a diplomatic own-goal that could easily have been avoided,” wrote Dan Drezner, professor of international politics at Tuft’s University in Boston in Foreign Policy.
“This is one of the few moments during her husband’s term of the office where what she does matters a small amount to world politics. She should be in California.”
Communist Party bosses had seen the meeting as a golden opportunity to deploy Peng Liyuan’s much-vaunted charms on the world stage in a bid to spin a more favorable image of China’s leaders, after a decade with the stiff, protocol obsessed former president Hu Jintao in charge.
Mrs. Peng, an elegant and much-loved singer, has taken centre-stage during president Xi’s ongoing tour of Latin America and the Caribbean, exchanging hi-fives with children and playing the steel drums in Trinidad and Tobago.
“First lady turns on the charm, impresses hosts,” the state-run China Daily enthused on Tuesday, noting that the 50-year-old soprano had made an impact “not just with her music, but also her kindness and language capability.”
Cheng Li, an expert in Chinese politics from Washington’s Brookings Institution, told the New York Times the Chinese would “readily” accept Mrs. Obama’s family commitments but said her decision “certainly needs some explanation.” The Chinese were “extremely sensitive.”
The shirtsleeves summits come as both countries begin a new political cycle.
The White House officials have played up the huge strategic importance of the talks which they said were aimed at deepening personal relations between the two leaders and developing a mechanism to avoid the “historic inevitability” of a clash between rising and sitting super powers.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.