Peng Liyuan , the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping , has returned to the diplomatic stage after a three-year absence, with poverty alleviation and environmental protection on her agenda. As Xi engaged in a flurry of diplomacy at last week’s Group of 20 summit in Bali and the Apec meeting in Bangkok, Peng – a soprano and famous folk singer – attended events held alongside those gatherings. It was her first in-person diplomatic engagement outside China since the coronavirus pandemic began – Peng was last seen abroad with Xi in November 2019 for the BRICS summit in Brazil. At an event on Tuesday with other spouses of G20 leaders, Peng called on China and Indonesia to strengthen exchanges and cooperation to ease poverty and protect the environment. On Wednesday, she discussed public welfare and charity, and the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis and Aids, with Indonesian first lady Iriana Joko Widodo. They also watched students perform an Indonesian song in Chinese at a Confucius Institute. In Thailand, Peng’s name appeared alongside Xi’s on a roadside billboard offering them a “warm welcome”, and the pair were greeted by soldiers and Thai Chinese waving flags when they arrived for the Apec summit. Peng visited a music college and museum with Naraporn Chan-ocha, the wife of Thailand’s prime minister, on Saturday. Peng’s 60th birthday was marked with Thai folk dancing and traditional Chinese music at a banquet later that day hosted by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his wife, according to videos circulating on social media. Analysts say Peng’s activities during last week’s diplomatic whirl were an effort to show a more friendly side of China. Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, noted that unlike her Western counterparts, Peng does not have the official title of “first lady”. That meant her activities and speeches on the diplomatic stage had less political significance compared to those who did have that title, he said. Still, Wu noted that Peng was the most high-profile spouse of China’s political elites. Earlier this month when Premier Li Keqiang visited Cambodia with his wife, Cheng Hong, she was only briefly mentioned in Chinese state media. Dylan Loh, an assistant professor in foreign policy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said there was also an effort to avoid Peng overshadowing the work of diplomats and officials on such occasions. “The areas that she has intervened in – women’s empowerment, Aids alleviation, poverty issues and so forth – are areas that are fairly uncontroversial,” Loh said. “Having a public female persona play this role also helps soften China’s image.” While Peng had not been seen abroad since Covid-19 emerged – Xi only made his first overseas trip since the pandemic in September – she did appear at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Peng also called for more cultural exchanges between China and the United States in October 2021, when she offered congratulations on the inauguration of the Tianjin Juilliard School , established in the Chinese port city by the Tianjin Conservatory of Music and New York’s Juilliard School. She made the remarks in a letter that was later the subject of a meeting by Tianjin government officials. However, a post on the meeting was taken down from the government website after it prompted public discussion on the lack of clarity on Peng’s role in Chinese politics.