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UK envoy makes awkward 'Japanese wife' gaffe in China

Keith Walker with AFP
July 30, 2018

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt awkwardly referred to his Chinese wife as "Japanese" during an official visit to China. China and Japan have a strained relationship, particularly when it comes to Japan's wartime past.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at a news conference in China
Image: Reuters/J. Lee

British minister's 'Japanese wife' gaffe

The foreign minister appeared to follow in the footsteps of his gaffe-prone predecessor Boris Johnson on Monday when he mistakenly referred to his Chinese wife as "Japanese" before quickly correcting himself.

"My wife is Japanese — my wife is Chinese. That's a terrible mistake to make," he told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit to strengthen trade ties with Beijing ahead of Brexit.

Hunt attempted to mend the mishap by pointing out just how Chinese his family really is. "My wife is Chinese and my children are half-Chinese and so we have Chinese grandparents who live in Xian and strong family connections in China."

East Asian connections

Jeremy Hunt's confusion possibly stems from his connections to China's regional rival, Japan. He speaks fluent Japanese, having lived there as an English teacher for two years, and one of his first business ventures was a failed scheme to export marmalade to Japan.

Jeremy Hunt took Boris Johnson's place as foreign secretary after Johnson resigned over British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan. Hunt is is married to Lucia Guo, who is from Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province. They have three children together.

Rising tensions have overshadowed Chinese-Japanese relations in recent years with the Asian neighbors rowing over the ownership of an East China Sea island chain and over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's 2013  visit to a Tokyo war shrine. Beijing has more recently accused Tokyo of disrupting regional stability by working with the US on missile defense radars.