Barack Obama

Questions over absence of China's First Lady

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 January, 2011, 12:00am

When President Hu Jintao stood between US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, for photographs ahead of the state banquet, the absence of Liu Yongqing, China's First Lady, could not have been more conspicuous.

Many wondered why Liu was not there. She has accompanied her husband on many overseas visits - the latest being a trip to Seoul in November.

In Beijing yesterday, after overseas journalists asked repeatedly about Liu's absence, the Foreign Ministry spokesman advised them to 'keep waiting'. With no official explanation, rumours began. Liu, already 70 and two years older than her husband, is possibly in poor health these days.

Or Hu, conscious of all details, may have left Liu at home because on Obama's trip to China in November 2009, Michelle Obama stayed home.

But a sideline event was apparently designed for the first ladies on Wednesday to support Barack Obama's '100,000 Strong Initiative', aimed at increasing significantly the number of Americans studying in China. Beijing has agreed to offer 10,000 scholarships for US students and teachers to study in China. Michelle Obama addressed an audience of more than 1,000 young people from the Washington area. Representing China, instead, was Chen Naiqing , a veteran diplomat and the wife of ambassador to the US Zhang Yesui .