- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to California for a two-day summit with President Obama. Xi will bring his wife, Peng Liyuan, but Michelle Obama will remain in Washington with her daughters, who are finishing the school year this week, according to the New York Times.
My colleague Dan Drezner writes that it’s a "diplomatic misstep" for Michelle Obama to skip the summit, and the Telegraph reports that "China’s hopes that their first lady would dazzle the American public … have been dashed."
Yes, America’s first lady will offend some Chinese by skipping the meeting. But I think Michelle Obama made the right choice. A popular singer, Peng spent her career belting out Chinese propaganda — songs with messages that Michelle Obama, and indeed many Americans and Chinese, do not want to be associated with. In one video, she pretends to be Tibetan and asks "Who is going to liberate us? The dear People’s Liberation Army." (The video angered Tibetan groups for portraying China’s 1959 invasion of Tibet as consensual.)
Peng is a civilian but holds a rank equivalent to major general in China’s PLA, and she would sing in full military garb before her husband became so high-profile. Perhaps most notoriously, she allegedly sang in support of Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square in 1989, following a bloody crackdown on protesters on June 4 of that year.
When was the last time Michelle Obama — or indeed any U.S. first lady — publically met and socialized with a military representative of a non-ally country? It’s a smart meeting for Mrs. Obama to skip. Peng’s no Asma al-Assad, but she’s no Carla Bruni either.