Jeremy Hunt has managed to insult both the Chinese government and his own wife with a gaffe he himself has described as a “terrible mistake”.
During a meeting with his counterpart, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, he said: “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. That’s a terrible mistake to make.”
Lucia Guo, his wife of nine years with whom he has two children, is in fact Chinese.
Compounding the embarrassment, Hunt accidentally picked the nationality most likely to provoke the ire of his hosts.
Although relations between China and Japan have improved leaps and bounds in recent years, historically there is much bad blood, particularly relating to the latter’s invasion and mistreatment of the former in the 30s and 40s.
Hunt later tweeted an apology to his wife.
Hunt was using visit to show Britain’s commitment to deepening ties post-Brexit between the nations.
Trade, North Korea, nuclear weapons and climate change were among the topics up for discussion.
At a press conference with counterpart Wang Yi, Mr Hunt was asked about the situation in Hong Kong, which the UK handed back to China in 1997.
Under the “one country, two systems” model, Beijing promised to let Hong Kong maintain wide autonomy and civil liberties, but fears are growing that China’s leaders are backtracking by oppressing the political opposition.
Hunt replaced Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary earlier this month and may simply be continuing his predecessor’s legacy of embarrassing gaffes.
In just one example from last year, Johnson said of Libya’s coastal city Sirte: “They have a got brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai.
“The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies.”