Why Michelle Obama shouldn't meet with Peng Liyuan

On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to California for a two-day summit with President Obama. Xi will bring his wife, Peng Liyuan, but Michelle Obama will remain in Washington with her daughters, who are finishing the school year this week, according to the New York Times.

My colleague Dan Drezner writes that it's a "diplomatic misstep" for Michelle Obama to skip the summit, and the Telegraph reports that "China's hopes that their first lady would dazzle the American public ... have been dashed."

Yes, America's first lady will offend some Chinese by skipping the meeting. But I think Michelle Obama made the right choice. A popular singer, Peng spent her career belting out Chinese propaganda -- songs with messages that Michelle Obama, and indeed many Americans and Chinese, do not want to be associated with. In one video, she pretends to be Tibetan and asks "Who is going to liberate us? The dear People's Liberation Army." (The video angered Tibetan groups for portraying China's 1959 invasion of Tibet as consensual.)

Peng is a civilian but holds a rank equivalent to major general in China's PLA, and she would sing in full military garb before her husband became so high-profile. Perhaps most notoriously, she allegedly sang in support of Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square in 1989, following a bloody crackdown on protesters on June 4 of that year.

When was the last time Michelle Obama -- or indeed any U.S. first lady -- publically met and socialized with a military representative of a non-ally country? It's a smart meeting for Mrs. Obama to skip. Peng's no Asma al-Assad, but she's no Carla Bruni either.



Australian minister too drunk to debate

Drinking at work: it's an ancient and venerable tradition, and one that enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the United States not too long ago. While the practice is still popular in continental Europe, American office culture has in recent decades largely succumbed to the influence of the teetotalers. Many have lamented this shift to sobriety, but another nation of Anglophones is demonstrating why it might not be such a bad idea.

On Monday, the Finance Minister of the Australia's New South Wales province, Greg Pearce, was asked to leave a parliamentary session for being too drunk to participate in debate. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Mr. Pearce was reportedly so inebriated during a marathon sitting of the upper house to debate changes to victims' compensation laws, which concluded at about 4.30am on Thursday, [that] he had to be excused from Parliament.

Though Pearce has denied the charges, the Parliament is currently mulling proposals to institute a code of conduct governing responsible alcohol consumption.

The problem of drinking on the taxpayer dime is not limited to Australia.  The Telegraph reported in March, after the arrest of a Tory MP for a drunken assault, that British MPs spent a total of £1.33 million in 2011 on alcohol in the nine different bars located in the House of Commons. Lest we think this is merely a problem for English-speakers, drunken ministers, presidents, and even colonels have appeared all over the world. Some highlights: 

  • March, 2013 -- UN diplomats are reprimanded by US officials for being too drunk for budget negotiations.
  • July, 2010 -- A British MP admits he was "too drunk to vote" on Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's budget. (to be fair, the vote was taken at 2:07 a.m.)
  • January, 2010 -- A Belgian MP blames his slurred speech on dyslexia.
  • February, 2009 -- A visibly drunk Japanese finance minister is caught on tape at the G7
  • January, 2002 -- German troops trade beer for US military intelligence
  • 1991-1999 -- Boris Yeltsin's entire career

The New South Wales Parliament has indicated that it will not move for a blanket ban of alcohol use while in session, but it is probably wise that they institute some restrictions rather than let the problem ferment. As for Pearce, he maintains that he was merely sleepy.