BEIJING (Reuters) - As U.S. President Donald Trump left Beijing on Friday for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, first lady Melania stayed behind to play tourist, viewing pandas at a zoo and visiting the Great Wall of China.
At the Beijing Zoo, the 47-year-old former model fed a giant panda named Gu Gu and learned about his nutrition and training.
She greeted a group of school children waving miniature Chinese and American flags, handing out stuffed toy eagles after watching the children sing a Chinese folk song at the panda enclosure.
“Thank you very much,” she said.
Melania then signed a panda print, writing: “Thank you to the Beijing Zoo! Wonderful to meet Gu Gu! Melania Trump”.
Later in the afternoon, Melania walked along part of the Mutianyu section of the more than 20,000-km (12,400-mile) long Great Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where China frequently takes visiting heads of state and their spouses.
As with previous first ladies, Melania has used her platform to champion public causes, such as the prevention of childhood bullying and combating the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Playing a prominent supporting role on the president’s multi-leg Asia visit, she won praise on Chinese social media, with comparisons to China’s glamorous first lady, Peng Liyuan, and comments on her apparent ease in navigating the ancient cobblestones of the Forbidden City in super-high stilettos upon arrival in Beijing on Wednesday.
Accompanied by Peng, Melania watched a cultural performance, painted pandas and participated in a cooking class at a primary school on Thursday.
Many on China’s Twitter-like Weibo applauded Melania’s grace and sense of style, as well as her cultural sensitivity.
In China, she wore mostly austere coats and dark gowns from Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen, in contrast with her magenta Delpozo outfit and electric-blue heels upon landing in South Korea days before.
But most in China said they remained bigger fans of their own first lady, often affectionately referred to online as Peng Mama, which roughly translates as Mother Peng.
“I still think Mama oozes more grace, while also exuding a motherly air!” one Weibo poster said.
Chinese social media sites are policed more heavily than normal during important political events, with negative or sensitive matter swiftly blocked or removed by internet censors.
As Trump departed, he said on Twitter his wife’s next stop would be Alaska, where she would “greet our AMAZING troops”.
However, Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka, who is very popular in China, did not accompany her father, to the disappointment of fans.
Reporting by Philip Wen; Additional reporting by Thomas Suen, Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Clarence Fernandez