This week's news that Michelle Obama would not be joining the president in Rancho Mirage, California to meet their Chinese counterparts for a two-day summit starting Friday triggered a wave of disappointment among China-watchers in the United States.
Some had hoped "first-lady diplomacy" would provide a layer of congeniality and intimacy to what's being talked up as an informal meeting. Michelle Obama's absence not only dashed those hopes, but prompted concern among China pundits about offending Chinese sensibilities.
It's "certainly to be noticed," wrote the New York Times, "by a Chinese public eager for the sight of their first lady joining America's own groundbreaking presidential spouse on the global stage."
They needn't have worried.
A day before the meeting between Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the news is barely registering with the Chinese public. Aside from a few brief announcements on Chinese web portals, mainstream media are largely muted on the subject.
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Comments are also sparse on Weibo, China's popular Twitter-style service. Although a few users said they felt offended by America's rudeness, others shrugged it off.
Some jokingly suggested Michelle may have chosen to opt out because of worry she'd be "outshined" by the glamorous Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan.
The gap between nervous Western speculation and Chinese unconcern points to some important nuances in the evolving Chinese perception of the United States.
Michelle Obama is a big celebrity in China. Her speech at the Democratic National Convention went viral on Chinese social media and drew tens of thousands of effusive comments. Her unassuming manner, sense of humor and apparent empathy for people provided a stark contrast to the image of their own officials, whose arrogance, corruption and ineptitude tend to stoke resentment.