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What role could First Lady Peng Liyuan play in Chinese foreign policy?

Question submitted by Charles Tang, June 4, 2013

Answered by: Rachel B. Vogelstein, Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program


The foreign policy of China's newly-installed president, Xi Jinping, is in its infancy, but one variable that has already generated much discussion is the role that Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan might play in shaping China's image abroad.

Peng Liyuan, who was recently named in Forbes' list of the World's Most Powerful Women and as one of Time magazine's one hundred most influential people in the world, has already revolutionized the role of first lady in China because of her fame, which stands in stark contrast to the anonymity of her of predecessors. She was well-known in her country as a glamorous folk singer in the People's Liberation Army even before assuming her current position. She continues to draw notice in China and abroad for her role as a goodwill ambassador for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis at the World Health Organization and from her participation in international trips across Russia and Africa.

As the June summit between U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping approaches, it remains to be seen whether the spotlight Peng Liyuan has commanded will help humanize China in the eyes of the world. One thing, however, appears certain: as China's influence continues to grow, all eyes will be on its dynamic first lady.