China is an important investor in New Zealand but it comes a distant second to Australia's investment here, according to research from the New Zealand China Council.

The council said investment from China, including Hong Kong, stood at $8.25 billion across the country in 2017, slightly more than the US but well behind Australia, which had investments worth $55.97b.

NZ-China Council executive director Stephen Jacobi said that contrary to public perception, Chinese investment was well diversified, driving key projects and improvements in the capital intensive primary and food and beverage industries, as well as the tourism, infrastructure and construction sectors.

"A lot of New Zealanders think that China owns everything, which is simply not the case," Jacobi told the Herald.

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"While Chinese investment is significant and growing, it is not as big as Australia's," he said.

Previous studies by the council showed that New Zealanders were supportive of foreign investment, provided it was strictly controlled.

"Foreign investment is always a controversial topic and it is more controversial when it comes to land or, indeed, water," Jacobi said.

"That debate is going to continue. I just think that it's important that we balance up the debate by looking at successful Chinese investment," he said, pointing the purchase of the former Crafar Farms by Shanghai Pengxin and the Silver Fern Farms-Shanghai Maling joint venture.

Around 50 per cent of investments were directed outside the main centres, with almost a quarter supporting regional development in the South Island.

The council's report, "Understanding Chinese Investment in New Zealand" drew attention to changes to regulation in both countries which could impact on future investment flows.

Without capital, expertise and market access, it's much harder for businesses to invest for growth, take on new employees, upgrade technology or develop new channels to market, Jacobi said.

While investment from China had continued to grow strongly in recent years, New Zealand only receives 0.5 per cent of outward direct investment from China and was ranked as the 35th highest recipient in 2017, down from 19th in 2015.

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In recent years, China had emerged as a major trade partner but the pattern of investment growth, while significant, has tended to lag behind the expansion of the relationship generally.

New Zealand outward direct investment (ODI) to China had risen even less rapidly.

Further amendments to current legislation are in the pipeline.

New Zealand, like China, controls and manages investment coming into the country by setting policy and applying regulations to channel foreign direct investment to where it is most needed, Jacobi said.