U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama arrives here Thursday for a week-long visit to be focused on educational and cultural exchanges.
Given that first ladies are unique ambassadors for the United States, the trip stands out as a stroke of "gentle diplomacy" on the part of Washington.
Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, deepening relations with Beijing has been one of his foreign policy priorities, and bilateral ties have generally moved in the right direction.
However, the globally significant trans-Pacific relationship has also witnessed strain due to some irresponsible moves by Washington, such as its meddling in South China Sea territorial disputes and Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama last month.
In addition, Obama's "pivot to Asia" strategy has generated new uncertainties in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly East Asia, to the detriment of Washington's own trustworthiness with China.
Against such a background, Michelle's trip is especially meaningful. For starters, it comes on the 35th anniversary of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations.
Though dedicated to promoting people-to-people interaction between the two nations, the visit presents a unique opportunity to boost mutual understanding and promote bilateral ties in a broader scope.
Moreover, a strengthened personal bond between the first families of China and the United States will naturally help generate better understanding and more common ground between Beijing and Washington.
Of particular significance is Michelle's rich interaction with Chinese students, which will help boost the mutual understanding and friendship between the younger generations of the two nations, who shoulder the future of bilateral relations.
When briefing the media about Michelle's trip, the U.S. side said the first lady is to steer clear of politics, human rights, trade disputes and other bilateral differences -- issues better handled via official diplomacy.
That approach is right. The uniqueness of the role of first ladies is its soft touch and freedom from the knottiness and even ugliness of hard politics.
Although it would be naive to expect Michelle's visit to iron out all differences between China and the United States, it is safe to say that a successful visit by Michelle will infuse fresh vigor into the development of bilateral relations.