No first ladies confab at US-China summit

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RANCHO MIRAGE, California: The leaders of the United States and China on Friday hold their first summit at a California retreat, but the highly-anticipated meeting of their glamorous wives will have to wait.

US First Lady Michelle Obama will spend the weekend in Washington, her office said without further explanation, leaving Peng Liyuan, a popular soprano long more famous than her husband President Xi Jinping, to find her own plans.

The informal talks between Xi and US President Barack Obama are the first since the Chinese leader took office in a once-in-a-decade power transfer in March, and will ditch the normal stuffiness associated with such summits.

Xi himself is perceived as being far less scripted than his predecessors, and one of the manifestations of that more free-flowing style is the emergence of Peng, who holds the rank of army general but now mainly does charity work.


Chinese first ladies have never before been thrust into the limelight. But Peng has traveled with her husband on all of his trips so far, from Russia to Latin America.

Her wardrobe in Moscow sparked a frenzy on Chinese social media, while in Mexico earlier this week, she toured television studios with Angelica Rivera, the telenovela star married to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

People-watchers had hoped that Michelle Obama and Peng—both known for their sense of style—would bring a touch of glamour to Sunnylands, the desert retreat where their husbands will meet.

But the White House insisted that Obama’s absence had not upset Beijing.

“When the meeting was scheduled, the Chinese government inquired about Mrs. Obama’s plans and fully understood that she was not available to travel to California,” an official told AFP.

“Our Chinese counterparts have not raised the question with us since then and there have been no complaints or concerns expressed to us by our Chinese counterparts. They have told us they are very satisfied with the arrangements for these meetings.”

Michelle Obama, whose popularity rating is 20 points higher than that of her husband, makes multiple appearances in support of her favorite causes, improved nutrition and finding work for veterans returning home from war.

But also this year, she presented the Academy Award for best picture via videolink from the White House, appeared on the cover of fashion bible Vogue for the second time, and danced on television with comedian Jimmy Fallon.

In accordance with White House protocol, she travels with her husband on major trips abroad and welcomes the spouses of heads of state to the White House during state visits.

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