Why Michelle Obama shouldn’t meet with Peng Liyuan

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 ...

Prachatai
Prachatai
Prachatai

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.)

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.

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

More from Foreign Policy

A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Xi’s Great Leap Backward

Beijing is running out of recipes for its looming jobs crisis—and reviving Mao-era policies.

A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.
A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.

Companies Are Fleeing China for Friendlier Shores

“Friendshoring” is the new trend as geopolitics bites.

German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.
German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.

Why Superpower Crises Are a Good Thing

A new era of tensions will focus minds and break logjams, as Cold War history shows.

Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.
Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.

The Mediterranean as We Know It Is Vanishing

From Saint-Tropez to Amalfi, the region’s most attractive tourist destinations are also its most vulnerable.