Jeremy Hunt, U.K. Foreign Secretary, Calls Chinese Wife Japanese on Beijing Visit

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt of Britain, left, with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, before their meeting in Beijing on Monday.CreditPool photo by Andy Wong

HONG KONG — Jeremy Hunt, the new British foreign secretary, made a diplomatic gaffe on Monday, calling his Chinese-born wife Japanese during a discussion with his counterpart in Beijing.

China and Japan have been longtime military rivals: During the 1930s and 1940s, Japan invaded and seized much of China.

Mr. Hunt committed the flub during a meeting with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi.

“My wife is Japanese — my wife is Chinese,” he said. “That’s a terrible mistake to make.”

“My wife is Chinese and my children are half-Chinese, and so we have Chinese grandparents who live in Xi’an and strong family connections in China,” he added. His wife, the former Lucia Guo, hails from that ancient city in central China.

Motioning to the foreign minister after he misspoke, Mr. Hunt said that he and Mr. Wang “spoke in Japanese at the state banquet,” in explaining the mistake to the Chinese delegation.

Mr. Hunt was in Beijing to try to strengthen trade with China as Britain struggles to figure how to carry out Brexit, its decision to leave the European Union. The trip is his first visit to Asia as foreign secretary, an office he took just three weeks ago.

The gaffe will not help the widespread impression that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is stumbling in foreign affairs.

Mr. Hunt took over from Boris Johnson, who resigned from the cabinet in protest at Mrs. May’s Brexit strategy, which he has argued will fail to achieve a clean break. Critics had questioned the appointment of Mr. Johnson in the first place, noting his own history of undiplomatic and racially tinged remarks.

David Davis, the cabinet secretary assigned to manage Brexit, also resigned. Mrs. May appointed a replacement, and then said she would lead the negotiations herself. Polls show large majorities in Britain believe that the government is mishandling Brexit.

President Trump added to the British government’s woes days after the resignations, criticizing Mrs. May just before arriving for a visit and casting doubt on her chances of striking a trade deal with the United States. Many Britons hoped for a forceful reaction from the prime minister, but she brushed off the comments.

Richard Pérez-Peña contributed reporting from London.

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