Michelle Obama generates Internet comment after Tibetan lunch

Wed Mar 26, 2014 6:37am EDT
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CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - U.S. first lady Michelle Obama lunched at a Tibetan restaurant in China's Sichuan province on Wednesday, prompting murmurs about "political overtones" on the country's active Internet social networks.

Obama, her two daughters and mother visited the city of Chengdu as part of a week-long trip to China, where she has sought to promote education and boost cultural ties.

China has criticized the White House for its support for exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, denounced by Beijing as a separatist "wolf in sheep's clothing".

A senior administration official who accompanied Obama said the first lady simply wanted to meet Tibetans in Chengdu.

"Tibetans are an important minority group, and there is a sizeable Tibetan community in Sichuan," the official said last weekend.

The restaurant was chosen because of the first lady's interest in the rights of minorities in China, a member of Obama's staff said, according to a pool report.

U.S. President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama in February, a meeting denounced by Beijing as interference in its internal affairs.

President Obama said he did not support Tibetan independence from China and the Dalai Lama has always denied seeking it, the White House said in a statement at the time.

Internet users saw the lunch as a thinly veiled message.   Continued...

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama is greeted by Tibetan students (L) and attendants holding gift scarves as she arrives for lunch at the Zangxiang Teahouse in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Shaver/Pool