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BEIJING (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama plans to avoid politics and focus on education and people-to-people contacts on her first visit to China.
 
Mrs. Obama's schedule includes a speech to Chinese and American students at Peking University and visits to the cities of Xi'an in the west and Chengdu in the southwest.
 
She was due to arrive Thursday, traveling with her mother and two daughters on the seven-day, three-city visit.
 
On Friday, Mrs. Obama is due to spend the day with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
 
"I think this is a very good opportunity to improve the China-U.S. relations, as the first lady can represent the soft side of diplomacy," said Wang Dong, a political scientist at Peking University's School of International Studies.
 
"Michelle Obama herself has been accomplished in areas such as women's rights, children issues and education, and I think members of the Chinese public are anticipating her visit with a positive attitude," Wang said.
 
The first lady intends to avoid contentious issues such as human rights, trade and cybersecurity, according to White House officials preparing the trip.
 
They said the first lady will use her personal stories to express American values. On Tuesday, she is due to visit a high school in Chengdu.
 
"Her focus on people-to-people relations, her focus on education and youth empowerment is one that we believe will resonate in China," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters ahead of the visit. "We also believe it's a message that is really fundamentally in the interest of the United States."
 
The first lady and her family also will visit the imperial palace and Great Wall in Beijing. While in Xi'an, she plans to visit ancient city walls and the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum. In Chendgu, the first lady is scheduled to visit a panda conservation center.
 
The trip provides an opportunity for President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to cultivate a personal relationship through their wives following their meeting in Sunnylands in California last year, Wang said.
 
"Such a personal relationship with mutual trust is crucial, as the China-U.S. relationship has entered a more challenging phrase," Wang said.
 
Her host is Peng Liyuan, Xi's wife, who accompanied her husband on the Sunnylands visit but did not meet Mrs. Obama, who stayed in Washington. Her absence left some Chinese grumbling and the visit allows the first lady to make up for it.
 
"I think this provides a natural reason to stay engaged" before Xi and Obama can meet again, Wang said.
 
The trip also gives Peng unusual prominence in a Chinese official culture that usually keeps leaders' spouses in the background.
 
Peng, a popular folk singer, was better known than Xi before he became Communist Party leader and president.
 
"She has a good presence on television," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "This is a formidable soft power china can use for the world to see China is not a monolithic society."
 
Chinese media have compared the dress styles of the two women with side-by-side photos.
 
The newspaper China Daily devoted a full page Thursday to their fashion choices.
 
"They know that what they do will be put under a microscope, including the clothes they don, and they parlay that kind of influence into exposure for causes with larger meanings," the newspaper said.
Published in National News
Thursday, 12 September 2013 05:29

First lady wants people to drink more plain water

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama has pushed America to eat healthier and to exercise more. Now she says we should "drink up" too. As in plain water. And as in more of it.

   She's getting behind a campaign being announced Thursday by the Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water.

   Organizers say too many people don't drink enough water daily and about one-fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any water at all on any given day.

   The first lady launched an initiative in 2010 to tackle childhood obesity. In the past, she has advocated switching from sugary sodas to water. But officials behind this new effort say it's strictly about getting people to drink more water — not about promoting water over other beverages.

 
Published in Health & Fitness
WASHINGTON (AP) - Walmart is putting special labels on some store-brand products to help shoppers quickly spot healthier items. Millions of schoolchildren are helping themselves to vegetables from salad bars in their lunchrooms. Kids' meals at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants automatically come with a side of fruit or vegetables and a glass of low-fat milk.

These and other changes were the food industry's response to the anti-childhood obesity campaign Michelle Obama launched three years ago. Other changes are in store.

Some people criticized the effort as unwanted government intrusion while nutrition advocates credited the first lady with raising awareness and bringing a range of interests to the table.

Mrs. Obama heads out Wednesday on a two-day tour to promote the "Let's Move" initiative, with stops in Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri.
Published in Health & Fitness

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