Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too

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Michelle Obama in China
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Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama walks with her daughters Malia, left, and Sasha, right, as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama walks with her daughters Malia, right, and Sasha, left, as they climb the steps at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama walks with her daughters Malia, right, and Sasha, left, as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama shares a light moment with her daughters Malia, front, and Sasha as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama walks with her daughters Malia, right, and Sasha, left, as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, walks with her daughters Malia, front, and Sasha as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center right, drinks water as U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, center left, speaks during a round table discussion on education at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, center left, attend a round table discussion on education at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during a round table discussion on education at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, speaks next to U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, left, as they attend a round table discussion on education at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, speaks during a round table discussion on education at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, from left, and her daughters Malia and Sasha applaud as they watch a Peking opera performance with a group of American schoolchildren who are visiting China during their spring break, at the Summer Palace in Beijing, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama smiles after she gave a speech at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
A crowd of Chinese tourists take photos outside a security line as a team of paramilitary policemen guard an entrance to the Summer Palace, closed for public during the visit of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama waves to a group of American schoolchildren who are visiting China during their spring break before they watch a Peking opera performance at the Summer Palace in Beijing, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, second from left, applauds as she and her daughters Malia, third from left, Sasha, fourth from left, and her mother Marian Robinson, second from right, watch a Peking opera performance with a group of American schoolchildren who are visiting China during their spring break, at the Summer Palace in Beijing, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, applauds as Jamar Everett, bottom right, from Queens College speaks during a a virtual discussion with Chinese and American youth at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. First lady Michelle Obama told students in China, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on the Internet, that freedom of speech and unfettered access to information make countries stronger and should be universal rights. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, right, gestures as she enters a room to participate in a virtual discussion with Chinese and American youth at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. Max Baucus, third from left, the new U.S. Ambassador to China, is seated with students. First lady Michelle Obama told students in China, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on the Internet, that freedom of speech and unfettered access to information make countries stronger and should be universal rights.(AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, right, listens to Liu Boyu, left, a Chinese student studying at Peking University, during a virtual discussion with Chinese and American youth at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama poses for photos when she receives a gift, a book entitled The History of Chinese Civilization, from Zhu Shanlu, Communist Party chief of Peking University, following her speech at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama reacts after she gave a speech at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at Stanford Center in Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, delivers a speech at Stanford Center in Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, third from right, greets a group of American schoolchildren who are visiting China during their spring break, before they watch a Peking opera performance at the Summer Palace in Beijing, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, seated second from back in the row on the right, participates in a a virtual discussion with Chinese and American youth at Stanford Center in the Peking University in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. First lady Michelle Obama told students in China, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on the Internet, that freedom of speech and unfettered access to information make countries stronger and should be universal rights. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, third from right, her daughters Malia, right, and Sasha, second from right, is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from left, and his wife Peng Liyuan, left, at the Diaoyutai State guest house in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama met with excited students who were building robots and tried her hand at Chinese calligraphy Friday during a tour of a Beijing high school. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, show the way to U.S. first lady Michelle Obama as they proceed to a meeting room at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center left, her daughters Malia, right, Sasha, left, Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, second left, pose for photos with Chinese President Xi Jinping, center right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, second right, at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan during a meeting at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, second from left, her mother Marian Robinson, left, share a light moment with Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan after a photo session at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, third from right, shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from left, as Michelle Obama's daughters Malia, right, Sasha, second right, Peng Liyuan, wife of Xi Jinping, left, look on before they proceed to a meeting at the Diaoyutai State guest house in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama met with excited students who were building robots and tried her hand at Chinese calligraphy Friday during a tour of a Beijing high school. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, shows U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, how to hold a writing brush as they visit a Chinese traditional calligraphy class at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to go abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama plays table tennis at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend colleges overseas in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters Sasha, left, Malia, second from left, Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, right, and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photos at Forbidden City in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters Sasha, left, and Malia, second from left, meet with Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they pay visit to the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend colleges overseas in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama plays table tennis at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend university abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photos at Forbidden City in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, walk together at Forbidden City in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, foreground right, and Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, foreground right, share a light moment as they visit a Chinese traditional calligraphy class at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to go abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, her daughters Malia, left, and Sasha, second from left, is accompanied by Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, third from right, watch students demonstrating remote control mechanical robots at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend universities abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, is greeted by Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping upon arrival at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to attend university abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, shows U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, center, how to hold a writing brush as they visit a Chinese traditional calligraphy class at the Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students to go abroad in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, fourth from left, her daughters Sasha, left, Malia, second from left, U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, third from left, meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, front left, her daughters Sasha, front right, Malia, right in the back, and Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, left in the back, arrive at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20, 2014. Michelle Obama has arrived in Beijing with her mother and daughters to kick off a seven-day, three-city tour where she will focus on education and cultural exchange. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, Pool)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, front left, her daughters Sasha, front right, Malia, right in the back, and Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, left in the back, arrive at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20, 2014. Michelle Obama has arrived in Beijing with her mother and daughters to kick off a seven-day, three-city tour where she will focus on education and cultural exchange. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, Pool)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, left, gestures as she and her daughter Sasha, right, leave their plane at Capital International Airport in Beijing Thursday, March 20, 2014. Michelle Obama has arrived in Beijing with her mother and daughters to kick off a seven-day, three-city tour where she will focus on education and cultural exchange. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, Pool)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, front left, laughs with her mother and daughters as they leave their plane at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Parker Sun, Pool)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- When President Barack Obama travels abroad, sometimes it's not enough for just the leader of the free world to show up. People in other countries want the first lady, too.

But Michelle Obama won't join her husband when he heads to Asia next week, and her absence is likely to sting, especially in image-conscious Japan. It's the first of four countries on Obama's travel schedule and one of two that are welcoming him with official state visits.

"If Madame Obama could have come, it would have been better. But the most important thing is that President Obama accepted this is a state visit," said Matake Kamiya, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University in Yokosuka, near Tokyo. "From an expert point of view, it's sort of worrisome why Madame Obama isn't coming."

The fact that Mrs. Obama recently spent a week in China with her mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters Malia and Sasha also is sure to be noted in Japan, a close U.S. ally and China rival. But the first lady's communications director, Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera, said it was not expected that Mrs. Obama would join the president on a return trip to Asia so soon, having returned less than a month ago.

"When it comes to international travel, the first lady has always chosen her trips based on what's best for her family," Noguera said in an emailed statement.

The last U.S. first lady who did not join her husband on a state visit to Japan was Gerald Ford's wife, Betty. Ford became the first sitting American president to visit Japan when he arrived in November 1974, a few months after he took over the office from Richard M. Nixon.

Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to Laura Bush, said having the president's wife on his overseas trips is always welcomed - by both the White House and the host country - because she can carry out a different type of diplomacy.

"They can focus on different things and, between the two of them, really spread a lot of goodwill," said McBride, who heads a first ladies' project at American University.

When Mrs. Obama does travel with the president, she often gets as much - and occasionally more - local media coverage.

Last year in Northern Ireland, where Obama and other major world leaders gathered for an international summit, she was "the Obama" who got top billing in the local newspaper. The front page of the Belfast Telegraph featured a head-to-toe photograph of Mrs. Obama with the headline, "How Michelle (and a bit of trouble with her fringe) stole the show." The headline referred to the first lady's debut of her longer bangs that swept in front of her eyes during a speech to students.

Obama and the summit host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, made the front page, too, but in separate and smaller photos.

Mrs. Obama's China visit last month was partly seen as making up for her not accompanying the president to California last year for the visit by President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan. The meeting fell days before Sasha's 12th birthday, and Mrs. Obama's office said at the time that she stayed back in Washington to be with family.

In public, Beijing muted its hurt feelings over Mrs. Obama's absence in California. But deep disappointment was registered in some Chinese mainstream and social media.

Many Chinese had looked forward to comparing Peng, an unusually visible and fashionable Chinese first lady, to her glamorous and high-profile American counterpart. Peng holds the rank of major general in the People's Liberation Army and was a popular singer on state television.

Mrs. Obama made up for her absence in California with a well-received, widely reported visit to three Chinese cities last month. She jumped rope, dabbled in tai-chi, walked a section of the Great Wall with her daughters, fed pandas, met with Xi and ate dinner with Peng.

Mrs. Obama's comments about the free flow of information, however, did not make it into official China state news reports.

The Japanese are putting a good face on Obama's upcoming solo stop, noting that his stay will be short. One high-level Japanese government official chalked up the first lady's absence to a new "American style" of travel. The official was not authorized to discuss by name details of Obama's trip before the White House announced them and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Mrs. Obama's most recent overseas trip with her husband came last summer, when they visited three African countries with their daughters, shortly after their stops in Northern Ireland and Germany. Since then, the president has traveled without her to Sweden, Russia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
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