The red flag of China hung outside Buckingham Palace Monday ahead of the first state visit of the country's president. Xi Jinping is the first Chinese leader to visit the U.K. in a decade. He was expected to arrive in London Monday and remain in the United Kingdom through Friday in a visit that will focus largely on growing economic relations between Beijing and London.
Xi and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan were to stay at Buckingham Palace. They have a busy schedule ahead of them. Xi was to meet Tuesday with Prince Charles at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to host a state banquet for Xi Tuesday night. Xi was to meet with Prince William and Kate Middleton Wednesday at a creative industry event honoring cultural collaboration between the U.K. and China. Xi Friday planned to visit the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester, an institution that leads the world in graphene research.
The United Kingdom has been eager in recent months to bolster trade with China. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the U.K., said he didn't expect the topic of human rights to come up because the British people “know how to behave." But it's unclear whether China will be able to avoid a showdown over human rights during Xi's visit. Protesters from the Free Tibet group, as well as those supporting persecuted Uighur Muslims, planned to hold protests against his visit while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed to raise concerns over human rights abuses. Prince Charles was reportedly skipping the the state banquet hosted by the queen Tuesday because of his relationship with the Dalai Lama, "whom he views as being oppressed by the Chinese," an aide said.
The U.K. typically hosts two foreign heads of state each year, with the queen acting as host at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or, occasionally, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2014, Singaporean President Tony Tan stayed at Buckingham Palace while visiting the queen. In March, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto stayed at Buckingham Palace during his official state visit.
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of the British monarchy since 1837. There is plenty of space for the royal family and visitors. Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, including 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.