First Lady ready to push education on China visit

FILE - In this March 14, 2014 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama speaks in Washington. When Michelle Obama arrives in China later this week, she will stress the message that she's carried on past trips outside the U.S. It's about the importance of education for young people around the world, and the role Mrs. Obama says education played in helping her get ahead in her own life. She departs Wednesday on her third solo international trip as first lady. The weeklong journey to China includes stops in Beijing and two other cities where she is to meet with school and university students, as well as tour some of China's historic cultural sites. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — It will be all about education and people-to-people connections when first lady Michelle Obama heads for China with her mother and daughters in tow on Wednesday. And there will be some awesome stops at historical and cultural treasures along the way.

The first lady is expected to steer clear of more contentious U.S.-China issues such as human rights, trade and counterfeiting during her weeklong visit.

Tina Tchen, the first lady's chief of staff, said that stressing the shared importance of education to young people in the U.S. and China was important not just for students but "vital for the competitiveness of our U.S. global economy."

Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, added that even without directly addressing difficult matters, the first lady's visit brings with it "the power of her own story and the power of American values, which I think is completely interwoven with our commitment to human rights."

Where the Obama administration has differences with China, Rhodes added, the U.S. addresses those in direct contacts with the Chinese government. "We don't think the first lady should make this a focus at all of her trip," he said in a conference call previewing the first lady's trip.

The first lady is scheduled to address American and Chinese students at Peking University on Saturday about the importance of study abroad and other cultural exchanges as well as the stakes the two countries have in one another's success. She'll also hold a virtual session with American students around the world.

On March 25, Mrs. Obama, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, will visit a high school in the southwestern city of Chengdu to share her own story about overcoming obstacles to obtaining a college education, including teachers who told her she was setting her sights too high.

Along the way, Mrs. Obama and the two generations of women accompanying her — daughters Malia and Sasha and mother Marian Robinson — will visit historical sites including the Great Wall, the famed Terra Cotta Warriors in the central city of Xian and the Chengdu Panda Base, home to about 50 pandas.

The White House is encouraging students at U.S schools to follow Mrs. Obama's trip online, via the White House blog, Twitter and through PBS LearningMedia and Discovery Education.

The trip also will allow the first lady to make up for the fact that she opted to stay in Washington rather than meet with her Chinese counterpart in California last year. She'll spend Friday with Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping, who will take Mrs. Obama on a school visit.

President Barack Obama is expected to visit the Asian economic powerhouse later this year.

Recent first ladies have directly addressed contentious matters while visiting China.

Laura Bush traveled to China with President George W. Bush in 2008 for the Olympic Games. She had become outspoken on the issue of Myanmar and, during the visit, flew to the Thai border with Myanmar to meet with refugees who fled a brutal campaign by the country's military junta. Mrs. Bush also urged China to follow other countries and sanction Myanmar's generals.

In 1995, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made her now famous declaration that "women's right are human rights" at a United Nation's women's conference in Beijing.


AP Writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.