Is China's First Lady Playing Politics?

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is currently on a four-day, feel-good trip to China -- full of pledges about greater cooperation on issues ranging from North Korea to bilateral trade -- but one aspect of her visit has been unusual: During a meeting with Park on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping brought along his wife, Peng Liyuan. A photo of the sit-down shows Xi sitting in the center, looking to the left at Park, while Peng sits to his right, with what appears to be a notepad on her lap. A write-up of the exchange in the Chinese and English versions of Xinhua, China's official news agency, mentions that "Xi's wife Peng Liyuan and State Councilor Yang Jiechi also attended the meeting." (Yang isn't in the photo.)

It seems bizarre to have a head of state's spouse participate in an official meeting. A Chinese military singer who until her husband's ascendance to national prominence a few years ago was better known than he was, Peng remains extremely popular in China. Having her around adds to Xi's appeal. (She is China's first charismatic first lady since Madame Mao -- but that ended poorly.) Peng also traveled to California for Xi's summit with Barack Obama earlier this month (Michelle Obama didn't attend, in what many perceived as a snub), but she does not appear to have participated in similar meetings between Obama and Xi.

Peng has been used to help China improve its international image; a March article in the nationalistic newspaper The Global Times about Peng visiting an orphanage in Moscow carried the headline "First Lady Hailed as Big Push to Soft Power." But this week's visit with with Park makeS one wonder what role, if any, Peng is playing in Chinese policymaking.

(h/t @adamcathcart



Photo of the Day: Ousted Australian Leader's Wax Figure Queues Up in Unemployment Line

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is no stranger to controversy -- what with all the flying sandwiches she's dodged and gender battles she's waged. But apparently she can't even catch a break after ceding power to Kevin Rudd following a dramatic leadership shakeup within her party this week. On Friday, Madame Tussauds in Sydney planted a wax figure of the toppled premier, resume in hand, in a line at a job center in the city. "Just like the original real-life model, Gillards wax replica appeared stoic in even the most challenging of circumstances," Australia's Daily Telegraph observed.

But others aren't amused. The wax museum's publicity stunt, argues Giles Hardie in the Sydney Morning Herald, disrespects Australia's first female prime minister. "[S]urely, if you're the managers of a museum that consistently suggests its sculptures are an honour to those captured in wax, it's best not to then use the same sculptures as, at best, caricatures in some surreal real-world political cartoon?" he asks.

How do other Australians feel? SMH is running a poll on its site, and 36 percent are calling the stunt "offensive." Then again, another quarter think it's just billiant. Yet another reminder of Australia's polarized politics -- courtesy of Madame Tussauds. 

Madame Tussauds via Getty Images