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Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted the importance of the China-U.S. bilateral relationship as he welcomed Obama to an official dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on Friday night, marking a new chapter in the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Obama, who is focusing on education and “people-to-people” exchanges during her trip, spent the day with Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan visiting a school and cultural and historical sites, accompanied by her daughters Sasha and Malia and her mother, Marian Robinson, all of whom also attended the dinner and a performance. Obama's daughters and mother Marian all wore J. Crew.
“China-U.S. bilateral relationship matters very much to both of our countries and to the world,” Xi said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House. “I am confident that with the concerted efforts of the two sides, the China-U.S. relationship will keep moving forward towards our shared goal of building a new model of major country relationships.”
RELATED STORY: Michelle Obama Begins China Tour >>
Xi also lauded his “sound working relationship and personal friendship” with President Obama, noting that he is looking forward to seeing him at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague, which begins on Monday. He said he hoped Michelle Obama would be traveling with her husband when he visits China for the APEC Economic leaders meeting in November.
“We had a wonderful first day here in Beijing,” Michelle Obama said. “We had an opportunity to meet with students. I tried my hand at ping pong—not so good. And our visit to the Forbidden City is one that we will never forget. Being able to see my mother, who doesn’t get to travel internationally often, walk through that ancient city, and to see her excitement and wonder is a moment that I will treasure forever.”
Obama said she will highlight the importance of student exchanges between the two countries on Saturday, when she is slated to deliver a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University and host an online forum with American students. She will later visit the Summer Palace.
The sartorial choices of the two First Ladies were a hot topic for Chinese Internet commentators. Peng, a former singer with the People’s Liberation Army, is known for her fashion flair and Obama has courted young American designers since her tenure as First lady.
Obama reportedly dazzled at the dinner in a “lacy red dress and red kitten heels,” according to a White House pool report. The dress was custom-designed by Naeem Khan. Peng wore a black dress that “appeared to be a modern twist on a traditional Chinese dress,” with open toe pumps.
For the school visit and sightseeing trip to the Forbidden City during the day, Obama was decked head-to-toe in a loose black vest, wide-legged pants, and white long sleeve shirt from the label 3.1 Phillip Lim. Peng wore a belted, two-piece “peacoat style” skirt suit paired with a red clutch and stud earrings, according to the pool report.
The two first ladies first visited the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend universities abroad, where Obama and Peng toured a “Geometry Robotics lab,” Obama tried her hand at ping pong and they both took part in a calligraphy class.
Peng skillfully wrote a four-character ancient Chinese aphorism meaning “only people of great virtue are suited to undertake great things,” and presented it to Obama as a gift, according to the pool report.
“In China, we have an ancient idiom, which means that when two people meet for the first time, they may feel as if they have known each other for many years,” Peng said at the school, according to an official White House transcript. She noted that she and Xi met the First Lady and President Obama last June at the Annenberg Estate, where they all agreed to the visit to China.
“And in December of last year, to celebrate the 100th day of the birth of the baby panda at the Washington Zoo, we sent video messages to express our congratulations. And the people of both China and the United States shared that joy.”
Obama said: “It’s very rare that I have the opportunity to travel outside of the United States, and it’s even more rare to have the opportunity to travel with three generations—with my daughters, with my mother. And it is no accident that one of our first trips as a family is here to China.”
She said stressed the importance of the relationship with China.
“And having the opportunity to travel here, to listen, to learn, to hear more about the education initiatives here in this country and to share my travels with students throughout the united States is a very unique experience, and it’s one that I will never forget,” Obama said.
Chinese press and social media are enthralled with US First Lady Michelle Obama, who started her goodwill trip to China on "Given that first ladies are unique ambassadors for the United States, the trip stands out as a stroke of 'gentle diplomacy' on the part of Washington," the official Xinhua news agency wrote in a commentary about the visit. "Moreover, a strengthened personal bond between the first families of China and the United States will naturally help generate better understanding and more common ground between Beijing and Washington."
The Global Times, a conservative newspaper, also applauded the visit, saying it would help China-US ties. On social media, "Michelle Obama"
became the eighth most searched term on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog service.
While Chinese media have applauded her visit generally, the press did throw some shade at Obama's plans to end her trip with her mother and daughters with a final meal at a Tibetan restaurant. Online, commentators applauded the decision. Obama's visit is focused on education, with several school visits on tap. The visit is fairly closed, with little media access and no press interviews scheduled.
"We hope to understand more about Chinese culture and education through this trip, and spark more interest in American youth on China," she said at a high school visit in Beijing on Saturday.
On her travel blog at whitehouse.gov, Obama described her first full day in China.
"As my family and I can attest from our time together at the Beijing Normal School, Madam Peng is a warm and gracious host," she wrote.
"And this visit was a perfect opportunity to highlight the themes of my trip: the value of education and the importance of cultural exchanges between young people in different countries."
A clip of President Barrack Obama telling comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that it was "lonely at home," went viral in China. Meanwhile, the first lady was lauded for her style.