“It’s an incredibly exciting time for New Zealand and its relationship with China, sorry, excuse me, with Japan,” she said Wednesday during a media briefing shortly after arriving in Japan.
Ardern blamed her gaffe on jetlag as she had just touched down in the country, according to state broadcaster TVNZ.
“You’ll understand I’ve been on continuous travel and just this moment stopped here,” she said.
Japan is three hours behind New Zealand, and a flight from Auckland to Toyko takes around 11 hours. CNN has reached out to Ardern’s office for comment.
A drifting relationship?
The misstep comes at an awkward time for Ardern – and not only because she is on her first official visit to the country as Prime Minister.
On Tuesday, Asia New Zealand Foundation, a partially-government funded group that conducts research into Asia, released a report which questioned whether New Zealand had let its relationship with Japan drift.
Ties between the two countries had “underperformed in the last few decades” as Japan’s economy stagnated and New Zealand looked toward the booming China market, the report said. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
Following Ardern’s meeting Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Ardern said the countries were “close friends who share common values and interests.”
“Japan is increasingly one of New Zealand’s most important partners in the world,” she said.
She also thanked Japan for looking after New Zealand’s rugby team the All Blacks, who are playing Saturday in Japan as part of the Rugby World Cup.
Japan remains New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner, and two-way trade between the two countries is worth $8.8 billion NZ ($5.6 billion) a year.
After Ardern’s five-day Japan trip, she’ll head to New York where she will meet with United States President Donald Trump and attend the United Nations General Assembly.