First the puzzle: If China really wanted to keep its appetite to invest in New Zealand dairy farms and mines 'under the radar', then why did the charmingly direct Chinese political counsellor invite the parliamentary press corps to listen to a Beijing-prepared rote speech underlining that we have nothing to fear from China's rise?
Cheng Lei is not a diplomatic neophyte.
He is very well-educated like many of his generation.
Not only is he fluent in English but he is also remarkably adept at understanding the nuances.
New Zealand is steeped in pro-China "free trade" dogma - Chinese buy our milk and live in the neighbourhood, while we would have to sacrifice Pharmac before the United States will let our dairy farmers in.
But we have not, as a nation, engaged in the fundamental question: Whether we are indeed happy to trade with China (over there) but do not really want to allow Chinese counterparts to do the same within our own borders?
It is the kind of question we should have resolved before cementing a free-trade deal with China.
But those of us who raised the possibility that China would want to invest in our dairy farms as part of the usual free-trade quid pro quo were shouted down by Fonterra's China -based manager who said that would never happen.
That the signal was delivered by Wahaha's Zong Qinghou - now China's richest billionaire and a man with a good nose for why the West ultimately got itself into such an indebted predicament - was blithely disregarded by Fonterra.
But it illustrates why New Zealand continues to misread the signals.
I don't seriously believe that Cheng feels New Zealanders are in any way engaged in the question the Chinese briefing paper poses, "Collapse or threat, Where will China head for?"
But after the United States' spectacular fall from grace, the timing was ripe for Cheng to use this as the platform for a wider onslaught.
So, when he invited a bunch of Wellington-based political journalists into the Chinese embassy to sip tea (one wit dubbed it the 'green tea offensive') he would have calculated that the subject would quickly shift to controversial local issues such as the attempts by Chinese firms to buy New Zealand farms.
It was a useful pressure point, given that the New Zealand Government faces a strict deadline to make a decision on the Shanghai conglomerate Pengxin's attempt to buy the 16 Crafar farms.
It might sting New Zealand free-trade purists to hear this - particularly those who were enjoying the cosy lunch for visiting WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy that Trade Minister Tim Groser hosted across town within hours of the political consul making his own assault on Cabinet's version of the Maginot line.
But what Cheng did was to break the code.
Without directly saying so, it was a 'Sorry Mr Groser, Mr McCully, Mr English and even Mr Key - you can't come up to Beijing and say you welcome Chinese investment in New Zealand but try to bury any reciprocal move to acquire stakes in mines, or a few farms or even to import some temporary housing for the 3000 to 12,000 foreign workers that will be necessary for the rebuilding of Christchurch.'
Fundamentally China has called New Zealand out.
In poker terms, China has called New Zealand's bluff - but by allowing Cheng, rather than the ambassador, to front the challenge - it can claim plausible deniability if New Zealand politicians take offence.
So we learned from Cheng that some New Zealand "xenophobes" were unreasonably fearful of any Chinese investments, regardless of the benefits.
"But on the other hand, we should also discipline our Chinese businesses when they go abroad ... to let them know they should take corporate social responsibilities as a commitment to New Zealand."
New Zealand officials have gone to rather surreal lengths to stop this issue erupting before now.
NZ Trade and Enterprise has invited select New Zealand businesses for a private briefing on Chinese investment because China wants to keep the subject "under the radar screen".
But the real reason cabinet ministers - and their officials - are not really engaging in the substance of China's rather elliptical messaging is that the New Zealand election is looming.
They can't have it both ways.
Purists abroad and protectionists at home - it's not a great look, really.