Britain’s new foreign minister made an awkward debut in China on Monday when he sought to curry favour with his hosts by mentioning his Chinese wife, but accidentally referred to her as “Japanese”.China and Japan have been traditional rivals for centuries. Although relations have improved somewhat recently, they remain touchy due to issues such as Japan’s bloody occupation of parts of China in the 1930s and 40s.Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, on his first official visit to China, quickly acknowledged the “terrible” error. “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. That’s a terrible mistake to make,” he told his counterpart, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi. “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,” he added, referring to the ancient city of Xian in northern China.A former health minister, Hunt is married to Lucia Guo, with whom he has three children. He succeeds the gaffe-prone Boris Johnson – who once referred to Africans as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” in a newspaper column – after Johnson dramatically resigned over Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint earlier this month. Hunt is in China in a bid to strengthen trade ties with Beijing ahead of Britain’s exit from the European Union next year. Other topics on the table are expected to be “the importance of multilateralism and free trade and ways the UK and China can work together on global challenges such as climate change, development, security and non-proliferation and enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea”, his office said ahead of the trip.