UK & World News

  • 26 March 2014, 12:05

Michelle Obama Feeds Pandas As Tour Ends

Michelle Obama ended her week-long trip to China by visiting a sanctuary for the country's most famous animal - giant pandas.

The US First Lady used a pole to feed apples to the black and white bears at a research centre in Chengdu, in China's Sichuan province.

She then went on to visit a Tibetan restaurant where she had a lunch containing yak meat.

Mrs Obama was winding up a tour that was described as an attempt at 'soft diplomacy', during which she has discussed education and free speech issues.

She has been travelling with her mother and two teenage daughters while her husband has been at the G7 summit in the Hague and dealing with domestic issues.

The four are due to return to Washington late on Wednesday.

While at the research centre, Mrs Obama met a 22-year-old grandmother panda named Lili as well as five young pandas, base staff said.

The reserve - which was closed to the public for the family's visit - is home to nearly 80 giant pandas, as well as a colony of red pandas.

Her lunch afterwards, at the Zangxiang Teahouse, also in Chengdu, featured a heavy emphasis on yak, including yak butter tea, yak soup, yak meat pies and boiled yak ribs.

Yaks are related to the cow and live in high-altitude areas of the Tibetan plateau where few other domesticated animals can survive.

Sichuan and other provinces neighbouring Tibet are home to a number of Tibetans, an ethnic group that campaigners say faces religious and cultural repression.

The Chinese take a different view, regarding Tibet as an integral and unquestionable part of their territory.

President Barack Obama met with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama last month despite objections from Beijing, which regards him as a thorn in the side.

Interviews with Mrs Obama have been banned during her visit, removing the possibility for discussion of subjects that could cause embarrassment.

She met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, before Xi flew to The Hague for a nuclear security summit and held a meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday.

She spent a full day with Xi's wife Peng Liyuan earlier Friday, in what many Chinese analysts described as "first lady diplomacy" to help soften the US-China relationship.

In the last few years, Chinese-US relations have been fraught with contentious disagreements over trade, cyber security and human rights.