Mrs Obama right to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

US First LadyMichelle Obama is vis­it­ing China to pro­mote cul­tural ex­changes and stress the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion, but no US news me­dia out­lets seem to have got this mes­sage.

In­stead, the reporting so far has been mostly about whyMrs Obama has not put hu­man rights on her agenda, and why the trip with her two daugh­ters, Malia and Sasha and her moth­erMar­ian Robin­son, is be­ing paid for by tax­pay­ers, why the WhiteHouse press corps can­not join the en­tourage, and why only a fe­wof her events are open to the press.

The­se­may be le­git­i­mate ques­tions, but they largely re­flec­tWestern news me­dia’s ob­ses­sion with sen­sa­tional head­lines, which cul­tural ex­changes and ed­u­ca­tion clearly aren’t.

Yes. Talk­ing with China on hu­man rights is crit­i­cal. The largest de­vel­op­ing na­tion still has a long way to go to im­prove in this re­gard. But that doesn’t mean ev­ery US leader and spouse vis­it­ing China must fo­cus on this one topic, not to men­tion that the US it­self has not put its own house in or­der given its own prob­lem­atic record in re­cent years. Be­sides, not each and ev­ery one of the 1.3 bil­lion Chi­nese cit­i­zens wakes up ev­ery morn­ing ag­o­niz­ing over their na­tion’s hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion.

On the con­trary, ed­u­ca­tion is prob­a­bly the top pri­or­ity for ev­ery Chi­nese fam­ily. And it is a key con­cern for or­di­nary fam­i­lies in the US as well. No one would dis­pute the in­flu­ence ed­u­ca­tion has on an in­di­vid­ual, a so­ci­ety, a na­tion and the world. Ed­u­ca­tion has a di­rect im­pact on the im­prove­ment of hu­man rights in a na­tion. That is es­pe­cially true when it comes to the vast un­der­priv­i­leged ru­ral pop­u­la­tion in China, par­tic­u­larly women.

In this re­gard, theUS First Lady sets a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple. Com­ing from a mod­est back­ground, her fa­ther worked as an em­ployee of a wa­ter plant in Chicago and her mother was a home­maker, she grad­u­ated with ex­cel­lence from Prince­tonUniver­sity and lat­erHar­vard LawSchool.

WhileMrs Obama has been a strong ad­vo­cate for em­pow­er­ment through ed­u­ca­tion, China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan has been equally pas­sion­ate about the sub­ject of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially ru­ral chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion in China. These were her pri­mary con­cerns while serv­ing as a mem­ber to the Chi­nese People’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence in pre­vi­ous years.

So there is no doubt that the two first ladies will find a lot in com­mon.

Hu­man rights are an im­por­tant is­sue, but there is sim­ply a long list of other is­sues that de­serve no less at­ten­tion. You can feel that when trav­el­ing out­side ofWash­ing­ton.

In Richmond, a city about a twohour drive fromWash­ing­ton, Vir­ginia Gover­nor Ter­ryMcAuliffe was talk­ing onWed­nes­day about how sig­nif­i­cant it is for the Richmond Bal­let, the State Bal­let of Vir­ginia, to visit Bei­jing next year and how vi­tal trade with China and Chi­nese in­vest­ment are to his state. He is due to visit China in Oc­to­ber to pro­mote trade ties.

That is also whyMrs Obama’s push for ed­u­ca­tional ex­change, such as the 100,000 Strong Ini­tia­tive, is also crit­i­cal. The ini­tia­tive an­nounced by Pres­i­dent Obama in 2009 aims to in­crease the num­ber of US stu­dents study­ing in China. There are al­ready more than 230,000 Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing on US col­lege cam­pus, and each year, 20,000 US stu­dents go to study in China. Such ex­pe­ri­ences will not only shape the life of these young people, but also how their na­tions will man­age such a key bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

For­mer first ladiesHil­lary Clin­ton and Laura Bush were prob­a­bly right for rais­ing hu­man rights is­sues dur­ing their vis­its to China. They shouted slo­gans and grabbed a lot of head­lines. ButMichelle Obama’s fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and cul­tural ex­changes, which may not make the head­lines, cer­tainly car­ries no less sub­stance and sig­nif­i­cance.

Have a won­der­ful trip, Mrs Obama, Malia, Sasha andMrs Robin­son! The au­thor, based in­Wash­ing­ton DC, is deputy edi­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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