Michelle Obama stirs Tibet pot during China visit

BEIJING (TIP): US first lady Michelle Obama, who had signaled that she’ll steer clear of controversy during her recent China tour, ended up creating a storm by visiting a Tibetan restaurant in Sichuan province, prompting thousands of Chinese to ask if she meant to indulge in domestic politics. Michelle visited the restaurant in Chengdu city of Sichuan, a province which has witnessed a large number of self-immolation by protesting Tibetan monks, along with her two daughters and mother over the weekend. She met some local Tibetans and sought to promote education and boost cultural ties.

The visit caused sharp reactions in the Chinese internet with many asking if she had a sinister goal in mind. “When it’s plain that the aim is to dictate to China, can you still say that the US first lady’s trip is just innocent travel?” asked user on Weibo, China’s Twitter. “This carries strong political overtones, meant to communicate that the US is paying close attention to politics in Tibet,” another Weibo post said. Some asked if the restaurant trip was part of the Chinaapproved itinerary or she had deviated from it.

An Obama aide did not help matters when he tried to defend the restaurant visit saying, “Tibetans are an important minority group, and there is a sizeable number of Tibetans in Sichuan.” Another aide said the restaurant was chosen because of her interest in the rights of minorities in China. In February, US President Barack Obama had met the Dalai Lama drawing severe criticism from the Chinese government, which regards the Buddhist leader as “a wolf in monk’s clothing”. The American first lady spun a row of prayer wheels as she walked the entry bridge to the restaurant, according to the US government’s pool report.

She also received the family ceremonial white scarves – symbolizing purity in Tibetan culture-from a group of Tibetan students. are Tibetan traditional foods, including yak meat pie, boiled yak ribs, bread made with barley and yak butter tea. Obama’s China tour was preceded by American officials indicating she won’t raise any controversial and human rights issues because it was meant to enhance Sino-US relationship. But she later talked about the importance of media and Internet freedom in her speech to students of Peking University. China has banned thousands of websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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