Johanna Sigurdardottir
Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir inspects the guard of honour with China's Premier Li Keqiang (Reuters)

The wife of the world's first openly gay prime minister has remained in the shadows during the first stages of a five-day official trip to China.

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir arrived in Beijing to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, accompanied by her wife of 13 years, Jonina Leosdottir.

The visit has been much anticipated by the local LGBT community, as, although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997, openly gay relationships are still a taboo in China.

"Their official visit will be a real-life lesson in equal rights taught to our state leaders," a gay rights activist told South China Morning Post (SCMP).

"I am sure our officials are getting prepared now and discussing how to properly receive them."

Sigurdardottir and Leosdottir were asked to meet with members of PFLAG China (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Beijing, but turned down the invitation due to the PM's extremely busy schedule, SCMP reported.

The dismissal didn't upset gay rights activists, who still see the premier couple's presence on Chinese soil as an encouraging sign.

On the first day of the trip, Sigurdardottir - PM of the tiny island nation of 320,000 people - met with Li and signed an historic free trade deal with Beijing, seen as a fundamental step in China's drive to expand its influence in the Arctic region.

Leosdottir was nowhere to be seen and her name wasn't mentioned in Chinese media's reports, which have focused purely on the economic aspects of the visit since it was announced.

The absence of the Icelandic first lady did not come as a surprise and was any embarrassment was eased by Li's spouse, Cheng Hong, adherence to the Chinese first ladies' habit of standing quietly behind their prominent husbands.

However the 'stay-well-behind-your-man' tradition has been recently broken by Xi's celebrity wife Peng Liyuan, who was paraded before the world's eyes during the president's first trip abroad in March.

Peng won the praise of bloggers and journalists, posing fashionably dressed with a number of heads of state and their first ladies.

During Xi's visit to Africa last month, Peng was snapped alongside Tanzanian first lady Salma Kikwete while watching traditional dancers performing for her husband's arrival in Dar es Salaam.

She was then pictured raising glasses with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and first lady Bongi Ngema in Pretoria before coming back home where she posed alongside her Mexican and Finnish counterparts Angelica Rivera and Jenni Haukio at the Boao Forum earlier this month.

The Chinese LGBT community is hoping Peng won't deny a photo opportunity with Leosdottir when Xi meets Sigurdardottir later this week.

Peng Liyuan Jonina Leosdottir
China’s first lady Peng Liyuan and her Icelandic counterpart Jonina Leosdottir (Reuters/ literaturtagezofingen.ch)