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FLOTUS in China: Promoting education, addressing freedom of expression

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Michelle Obama addressed a room full of local politicians, press and community members in support of the FreshWorks program.
Hayley Fox/KPCC
Michelle Obama addressed a room full of local politicians, press and community members in support of the FreshWorks program. The first lady is currently in China, where her style is generating buzz.

First lady Michelle Obama is currently in China to promote educational exchanges between China and the U.S. while subtly addressing freedom of expression.

First lady, Michelle Obama is currently visiting China with her daughters, Sasha and Malia and her mother, Marian Robinson.

The trip marks the first ever made by a first lady to China without her husband in tow.

Mrs. Obama is there to promote educational exchanges between the U.S. and China but she has also subtly been addressing the issue of freedom of expression.

For a look at the substance of the first lady's trip, Laurie Burkitt, a reporter in the Beijing bureau of the Wall Street Journal, joined Take Two. 


What has the first lady been doing?

On Friday she visited with China’s first lady and visited schools together and she played pingpong, which she’s not too shabby at. Then she saw some robots. She also went to the forbidden city and then had a special performance. The Chinese side wouldn’t say what that was and the American side wouldn’t either but I’ll have you know that the Chinese first lady happens to sing so we’re wondering if maybe she didn’t give that performance herself.

Can you talk about the reception of her education talks?

They’ve latched onto that because it’s a pretty safe issue. They know they need to beef up innovation and give full access to rural and urban citizens so everyone can have education.

She apparently indirectly criticized China for severe restrictions in the media. Can you tell us what she said, how she said it and what the reaction has been?

She was giving a speech to Stanford University at Peking, one of China’s biggest and most important universities. She talked about the importance of overseas education to broaden the horizon of each individual and mixed in between that she mentioned freedom of speech and access to information. She used pretty strong language. She said something like, ‘Countries are stronger and more prosperous when everyone can be heard.’ She mentioned her own experience and said, ‘My husband and I are on the receiving end of a lot of criticism but we really wouldn’t trade it in for the world.’

Later this week she will be eating a Tibetan lunch in China. Can you explain the significance of this?

Tibetan food is not the world’s greatest, it’s mostly yak meat. So the reason to eat it would be to open discussion about a region of China that has really been fighting for independence. And President Obama recently met with the Dalai Lama, the religious leader who now lives in India and he’s not allowed to go back. It’s definitely contentious. 

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