China's 'first lady' Peng avoids California limelight
By John Ruwitch
RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - China's photogenic "first lady" Peng Liyuan played steel drums in Trinidad, strolled hand-in-hand with a coffee farmer's daughter in Costa Rica and snapped pictures with her iPhone in the shadow of Mayan ruins in Mexico.
But the glamorous and popular wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped out of the spotlight for two days in California while her husband held unprecedented informal talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at a lush retreat in the desert on the last leg of a four-country trip.
Peng, a singer who many Chinese say was far more famous than Xi before he became a top leader, has decisively broken the mold of Chinese first wives who have kept an intentionally low profile since the 1970s.
Many in China expected to see more of her in California and hoped that she would have a chance to interact with U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, potentially adding a fresh dimension to the nascent relationship between their presidential husbands.
But Mrs. Obama's decision to stay in Washington with her daughters rather than meet the Chinese first couple sidelined Peng to some extent.
U.S. officials said it had been made clear to the Chinese side early on that a scheduling conflict would prevent Mrs. Obama from the summit at the Sunnylands estate near Palm Springs.
But the U.S. first lady did make a gesture.
"Mrs. Obama wrote a letter to Madame Peng welcoming her to the United States. The First Lady said she regretted missing her this weekend but hopes to have the chance to visit China and meet Madame Peng sometime soon," a White House official said. Continued...