Visiting US first lady Michelle Obama held a meeting yesterday at the US embassy with Chinese educators and families, after her arrival there sparked a minor security alert.
People just outside the embassy began shouting as her motorcade pulled in, while Chinese police and men in gray sweatshirts and pants ran to subdue them. It was unclear what they were shouting about.
Obama is making a week-long trip to China that is focused on education and “soft” issues. US officials have said that the visit by Obama — who is accompanied by her daughters and mother — is not meant to touch on politics.
Since arriving in the Chinese capital on Thursday night, she has played table tennis with Chinese students and toured the Forbidden City with her counterpart, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛).
Yet she briefly trod political ground in a speech on Saturday morning at Peking University’s Stanford Center, calling for greater freedoms while refraining from calling out China by name.
“As my husband has said, we respect the uniqueness of other cultures and societies,” Obama told a crowd of about 200 students, most of whom were from the US. “But when it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshipping as you choose, and having open access to information — we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet.”
“We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to fulfill their highest potential, as I was able to do in the US,” she added.
Yet the majority of Obama’s speech was devoted to encouraging US students to study abroad in China.
She touted the “100,000 Strong” initiative announced by US President Obama during his 2009 visit to Beijing, which aims to raise the number and the socioeconomic diversity of Americans studying in China.
After her speech, Obama held a virtual roundtable with a group of US students, then took a tour with her family of the Summer Palace, a former imperial getaway not far from Peking University.
In opening remarks at the education roundtable yesterday morning, she said that “education is an important focus for me.”
“It’s personal, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents investing and pushing me to get a good education,” she said.
Obama was due to tour the Great Wall outside Beijing later in the day. She is scheduled to visit Xian, site of the famous ancient Terracotta Warriors and Chengdu, home to the country’s iconic pandas.