US first lady meets Xi Jinping and wife
By Didi Tang, AP
March 22, 2014, 12:08 am TWN
BEIJING--U.S. first lady Michelle Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, the first day of her weeklong visit to China, in a sign that the leaders of the world's two largest economies are seeking to build stronger bonds.
The formal meeting between Mrs. Obama and Xi, in the company of Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, and Mrs. Obama's two daughters and mother, took place in a state guesthouse after the first lady toured a Beijing high school and the former Imperial Palace.
"I cherish my sound working relationship and personal friendship I already established with your husband," Xi said. "We stay in close touch between phone conversations and correspondence."
Mrs. Obama thanked Xi for the warm reception for herself and her family. "We have had a wonderful first day here in China," she told Xi.
The meeting was not on the first lady's official itinerary but was expected. "It is only logical for President Xi to meet her, because it is a matter of etiquette for the head of the household to meet the guest of his wife," said Teng Jianqun, director of the American studies department at China Institute of International Studies. He added that Mrs. Obama likely served as a messenger on behalf of President Barack Obama.
Her visit to China is being viewed as a prelude to an upcoming meeting between Xi and President Obama at a nuclear security summit in The Hague, when more thorny issues will be raised.
Mrs. Obama also made history as the first U.S. first lady to visit China independently, Teng said.
The first lady told Xi she was focusing on education and student exchanges during her seven-day, three-city visit to China. Her aides have said the first lady plans to stay away from contentious issues.
Earlier on Friday, Mrs. Obama visited with excited students who were building robots and tried her hand at Chinese calligraphy at the Second High School Attached to Beijing Normal University in central Beijing. The elite school has 33 American exchange students, and some of its Chinese students aspire to study in the United States.
In a calligraphy class set up for Mrs. Obama's visit, the first lady practiced writing the Chinese character for "eternal" under the guidance of 16-year-old student Lu Yuhong.
"I'm nervous," Mrs. Obama said. "Don't be nervous," Peng replied in English.
Lu said he too was nervous, as well as "very excited."
"But the first lady was so amicable. She was very approachable," Lu said.