Chinese restaurateur Jing Wei makes it a point to explain the style of cuisine and his Chinese culture when he sees someone new stepping into his Sichuan hot pot eatery Xiaolongkan.
A new Asia New Zealand Foundation survey has found the number of New Zealanders feeling warm about China has fallen to a record low.
But it also found that food and travel remained the most popular Asia-related interests for Kiwis.
Wei said the number of non-Chinese diners coming to his speciality restaurant had risen from 5 per cent to about 20 per cent since it opened three years ago.
"Whatever New Zealanders think of China, I find Kiwis are becoming more open to different styles of Chinese food. I take every opportunity to share with customers the customs, history and culture behind the style of food we serve," he said.
"A lot of what we know of other cultures is formed by what we read in the media, but for many the real experiences they have with another culture is mainly through their food.
"So I feel it is important that I use my food as a way to promote better understanding of our Chinese heritage."
Largely due to recent coverage of China's role in the Pacific, the 2020 Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples report found almost six in 10 - the highest ever number - saw China as a threat and just 13 per cent regarded China as a friend.
"Given the media coverage, which strongly influences New Zealanders' views, a record low 13 per cent of New Zealanders saw China as a friend and 58 per cent saw it as a threat," said foundation executive director Simon Draper.
"A key question will be whether this is a long-lasting view of China."
In last year's survey, 37 per cent saw China as threatening and 29 per cent as friendly.
New Zealanders predominantly think of China when they thought of Asia, the survey found. This is despite an increased knowledge about Asia.
Asked to give the first word respondents thought of when they heard or saw the word "Asia", the most common response for the third year running was "China" followed by "food".
New Zealand's closest "friends" in Asia are seen to be Japan (68 per cent), Singapore (65
per cent) and South Korea (49 per cent), and consider these three nations to be important defence and security partners in Asia.
North Korea and Russia are considered the most threatening countries.
Overall, the survey showed New Zealanders feel more strongly part of Asia through their friends, community and interests.
They also had a greater understanding of how developments in the region impact New Zealand.
Also at a record high, 79 per cent believed it was important for New Zealand to develop political, social and economic ties with Asia - up from 73 per cent in 2020.
Respondents overwhelmingly saw it as important for a future workforce to be equipped with Asia-related skills and capabilities, such as understanding of cultural norms, etiquette and language skills.
"It appears that having cut off from Asia due to Covid, more New Zealanders now understand the importance of being connected to Asia," Draper said.
Asia was the number one desired travel destination for young New Zealanders.
The annual polling, which is in its 25th year, was conducted with 2334 surveyed in November last year and the data was supplemented with a mini poll of 1186 in June.
An online survey with 563 New Zealanders aged 16 and 19 in January found young Kiwis have a keen interest in Asia.
Six in 10 said they were interested to work or study in Asia, but felt the Covid-19 pandemic would make it harder and more expensive for them to travel to the region.
Two-thirds were interested in learning an Asian language, over half viewed Asia as an important region to learn about in schools but just 24 per cent felt it had been taught to a reasonable extent.
"The key with these surveys are the trends," Draper said.
"The takeaway for us this year is a move from talking about us (New Zealand) and them (Asia), to a better sense of New Zealand being part of the region," Draper said.
"That is good news, but it is clear there is still a way to go for New Zealand to realise the opportunities that Asia presents New Zealand."