BEIJING: US First Lady Michelle Obama on Saturday emphasised the importance of universal rights, telling a crowd of students in Beijing that freedom of expression and religion should not be determined by one’s country of birth.
Obama, who is on a week-long trip to China with her daughters and mother, has sought to focus on “soft” issues since her arrival in Beijing Thursday night, playing table tennis with students and touring the Forbidden City with her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan.
But she briefly trod political ground in her Saturday morning speech at Peking University’s Stanford Centre, calling for greater freedoms while refraining from calling out China by name.
“As my husband has said, we respect the uniqueness of other cultures and societies,” Obama told a crowd of about 200 students, most of whom were from the US.
“But when it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshipping as you choose, and having open access to information — we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet,” she said.
“We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential as I was able to do in the United States.”
Obama’s words echoed remarks made last December by US Vice President Joe Biden, who told a group of American business leaders in Beijing that China “will be stronger and more stable and more innovative if it respects universal human rights”.
After her speech, Obama held a virtual roundtable with a group of American students and then took a tour with her family of the Summer Palace, the picturesque former imperial getaway not far from Peking University.
There, the Obamas once again took up the “soft” focus of their trip, meeting with a group of visiting American middle schoolers and taking in a traditional Chinese dance performance under the uncharacteristically sunny Beijing skies.