Peng Liyuan

Soft power: China's first lady Peng Liyuan has again shown that spouses of leaders are valuable national assets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 1:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 1:29am

If President Xi Jinping's state visit to Britain has not entirely bought over its preternaturally critical press, the first lady, Peng Liyuan , struck all the right notes on Fleet Street.

The Daily Mail described her as "the glamorous 52-year-old", while The Daily Telegraph positively swooned over her. "A master in the art of diplomatic dressing," the newspaper wrote, "Madame Peng is not just holding her own, but helping to define the new world-facing image of China."

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Unlike the wives of previous Chinese leaders, Peng's star qualities give her global appeal. She held her own last year when she hosted the equally glamorous American first lady Michelle Obama in Beijing while their husbands negotiated in the Netherlands.

This time, China's first lady again showed an easy rapport when she chatted affably with the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, without the help of a translator.

During the first couple's state visits around the world, there is inevitably as much interest in Peng's fashion as Xi's agenda.

A Unesco special envoy for female education, Peng impressed her hosts at the United Nations in New York last month with a speech in perfect English on the importance of education for women. She is also the World Health Organisation's goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.

Peng exudes a natural confidence and easily interacts with people from different walks of life.

READ MORE: China's first lady Peng Liyuan strikes right chord chatting to music students, Mandarin pupils during visit to UK

As Xi pursues hardline policies at home and aboard, the soft image of his glamorous wife helps moderate the hard edges by presenting a kinder, gentler face to the world. Her fashion sense and natural dignity represent the attractive and human side of modern China.

As the country becomes a dominant player in 21st century global politics, its leaders are discovering that their spouses can be highly valuable state assets in Beijing's projection of soft power around the globe.