Jacinda Ardern awkwardly mixes up China and Japan

The Prime Minister's trip to Japan has begun with her awkwardly mixing up China and Japan.

Jacinda Ardern is in the Asian nation - New Zealand's fourth largest trading partner and worth $8.8 billion per year - for meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and to promote trade opportunities.

But the visit hasn't begun on the best step, with Ardern mixing up two Asian countries.

In her opening remarks to reporters, Ardern said: "This is an incredibly exciting time for New Zealand and its relationship with China, sorry excuse me, with Japan."

She later blamed jetlag.

"You'll understand I've been on continuous travel and just this moment stopped here."

Jacinda Ardern awkwardly mixes up China and Japan
Photo credit: Newshub / Getty.

While it may have been an innocent mix-up, on Tuesday, the Asia New Zealand Foundation released a report questioning if we have let our relationship with Japan "drift".

"A widely-held impression among Japanese security analysts is that in recent years New Zealand had moved away from traditional partners and closer to China," the report says. 

It says the Japanese people have a positive but "very narrow" view of New Zealand, with consumers seeing it as safe, clean and green, but as a "little unsophisticated".

"Since the 1990s, Japan's highly protected market, especially for agricultural products, has seemed impervious to efforts to prise it open," the report says.

"This, together with Japan's economic stagnation, has led New Zealand businesses and government to turn their attention to the booming China market. 

"Whaling in the Southern Ocean has also hurt Japan's image among many New Zealanders and has led to occasional spats between the Japanese and New Zealand governments."

Responding to a question from Newshub about whether New Zealand's relationship with China means Japan has been ignored, Ardern said: "Not at all".

"Obviously, China is our largest export market, but Japan coming in at fourth is an incredibly important market for us as well.

"I think the importance for New Zealand exporters is creating a diverse range of export partners, that is what strengthens our economy."

The full Asia New Zealand Foundation report can be found here. A summary says New Zealanders "feel warmer to Japan than any other Asian country" and that the Rugby World Cup would provide an insight into the country for Kiwis.