When Michelle Obama declined to attend a crucial “shirtsleeves” summit between her husband and the newly promoted president of China last June, it was widely seen in Beijing as a stinging political snub.

The meeting was to be an unprecedented pairing of first ladies; Xi Jinping’s wife, an elegant People’s Liberation Army singer, has enough star power inside China to match her American counterpart. When Mrs Obama cancelled, it sent a signal that Peng Liyuan was an unwanted guest.

Nearly nine months later, however, the Chinese public will this week finally get the chance to see the two women together when Mrs Obama takes her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, on a six-day half-term break to China that will be part family getaway, part international soft-power diplomacy.

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