NICOLA Sturgeon has turned down an invitation to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the UK.

The news came as Buckingham Palace prepared to roll out the red carpet for the Chinese premier’s first visit to Britain.

It is understood the First Minister had been invited to the state banquet to be held in honour of the Chinese premier at Buckingham Palace tonight but has declined due to “existing commitments”.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland values its strong relationship with China – the First Minister had a successful visit to China in July and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop recently attended the UK China High Level People to People Dialogue in September where the Chinese side was led by Vice-Premier Madam Liu Yandong.

“Due to existing commitments the First Minister is unable to attend dinner with President Xi.”

The National understand that, through UK Trade & Investment, Scottish companies are taking part in various business summits around the visit.

China is big business for Scotland. The Scottish Government estimates exports from Scotland to China in 2013 were worth almost £580 million – an increase of 118 per cent since 2007.

Tourists from the country also brought in £112m into the Scottish economy in 2012-14, almost twice as much than in the previous period.

Xi’s visit is proving controversial, with Britain accused of overlooking human rights violations while the Chinese delegation are in the country. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, told reporters that in the red carpet being rolled out was “the blood of the Uighur people, Tibet and other Chinese dissidents,” accusing Xi of turning his hometown of Xinjiang “almost into a war zone”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to raise human rights with Xi during a private meeting in Buckingham Palace later this afternoon. Before the two men meet, Xi will address MPs and Lords at the Houses of Parliament.

It is the first state visit from a Chinese President to the UK in 10 years. London is covered in the large red flags of the People’s Republic of China.

The Communist leader and his wife Peng Liyuan arrived late last night.Today they will be met by Prince Charles and taken to Horseguards Parade where Xi and Prince Philip will inspect the guards.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have planned a protest nearby in St James’ Park, although a pro-China protest is also expected to take place. David Cameron said Xi’s visit was a “very important moment”. Chancellor George Osborne has said the Government’s intends to make the UK China’s “best partner in the west”.

President Xi’s trip continues until Friday.

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