Jacinda Ardern mistakes Japan for China during Tokyo visit

Angela Cuming in Dunedin
Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has blamed jetlag for an embarrassing gaffe on her first official visit to Japan.

Ardern had only just touched down in the country and was giving an interview when she said in her opening remarks it was an “incredibly exciting time for New Zealand in its relationship with China – excuse me sorry, with Japan”.

When asked later about the blunder, Ardern put the mistake down to jet lag, having only just arrived from New Zealand, reported TVNZ. “You’ll understand I’ve been on continuous travel and just this moment I stopped here,” Ardern said.

Japan is three hours behind New Zealand and a direct flight between the two countries takes 11 hours.

Related: Ardern under pressure as staffer accused of sexual assault quits

The timing was unfortunate for Ardern. A report released on Thursday by the Asia New Zealand Foundation questioned whether New Zealand had allowed its relationship with Japan to “drift”, with more attention now being paid to China.

“Perhaps we have taken the relationship with Japan a little bit for granted,” said the foundation’s executive director Simon Draper. Japan is New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner and worth NZ$8.8bn (£4.45bn) per year.

Ardern is in Japan to discuss trade and tourism with the prime minister Shinzo Abe. She will also watch an All Blacks game at the Rugby World Cup.

Ardern is on the first leg of an overseas trip that will next take her to the UN leaders general assembly meeting in New York, where she will give the keynote speech at the climate action summit.

While in New York, Ardern will hold her first ever formal meeting with Donald Trump and given the pair’s chequered history she will no doubt be keen to avoid any further diplomatic muddles.

In November 2017, one month after Ardern took office, Trump allegedly mistook her for the wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at the east Asia summit in Vietnam.

Ardern later apologised for indiscreetly discussing the incident with a friend. The friend – comedian Tom Sainsbury – revealed in a radio interview that Ardern had told her Trump was “not as orange in real life”.