ADVERTISEMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) Michelle Obama plans a weeklong solo visit to China this month that includes meetings with China's first lady and high school and university students.

It will be her first visit to the Asian economic powerhouse.

In an announcement Monday on the White House blog, the first lady says a China visit is important because it is the most populous country in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people, and is an important world actor.

Mrs. Obama will travel from March 19-26, spending several days in the capital of Beijing before stops in the central city of Xian and the southwestern city of Chengdu, the White House said. Her schedule includes a meeting with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mrs. Obama missed meeting China's first lady last June when the newly installed Xi, accompanied by his wife, traveled to Southern California for a summit with President Barack Obama. The presidential-level meetings were around the time of Sasha Obama's 12th birthday, and the White House said Mrs. Obama stayed in Washington with family.

She wrote a letter to Peng Liyuan welcoming her to the U.S. and expressing hope that they would meet soon in China, the White House said.

In China, Mrs. Obama will focus on the power and importance of education, including in her own life, during visits to a high school and a university in Beijing, and a high school in Chengdu.

She recently began an effort to encourage America's young people, including some of the most economically disadvantaged, to pursue a college education. On past trips outside the U.S., she also has made the same point to students from the host country. Mrs. Obama grew up in a poor Chicago family, but earned degrees from two of America's best universities.

In China, she will be accompanied by daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Robinson, who lives at the White House. President Obama will not be on the trip; he is scheduled to depart the U.S. later that week for stops in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Mrs. Obama is encouraging American students to follow her trip on social media and the White House website, where she will post a daily travel blog. In preparation for the trip, she scheduled a visit Tuesday to a Washington charter elementary school with a Chinese-immersion, international baccalaureate program.

In her blog post, the first lady said countries today are no longer isolated and face many of the same challenges, whether it is to provide students with a good education, combat hunger, poverty and disease or address threats like climate change.

"These issues affect every last one of us, so it's critically important that young people like you learn about what's going on not just here in America, but around the world," Mrs. Obama said. "Because when it comes to the challenges we face, soon, all of you will be leading the way."

"That's why everywhere I go, whether it's here in the U.S. or abroad, I meet with young people to hear about your challenges, hopes and dreams and that's what I'll be doing in China as well," she said. "I'll be focusing on the power and importance of education, both in my own life and in the lives of young people in both of our countries."

Among recent first ladies, Laura Bush traveled to China with President George W. Bush, and Beijing was the place where Hillary Rodham Clinton made her now famous declaration at a United Nations women's conference in 1995 that "women's rights are human rights."

Mrs. Obama's trip will be a highly visible endeavor, but the fact that she's taking the rest of her family suggests "she's not going in search of a crusade of one sort or another," said Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. "The clear intent here is not to touch any particular hot buttons."

Mrs. Obama's previous solo travels outside the U.S. as first lady were to Mexico in 2010, and Botswana and South Africa in 2011.

___

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

___

Online: