New Zealand-China rift: Is it really that bad?

China has issued a warning of sorts to New Zealand - talking up the risks of travelling here.

It's the latest signal sent by China which suggests a growing rift between New Zealand and our largest trading partner.

The tourism industry says there's nothing to see here - it's all just bluster. But there are concerns a diplomatic cooling could see Chinese travel elsewhere.

The China People's Daily, considered a mouthpiece of the Chinese state, published an article claiming tourists are turning away from New Zealand.

And the Chinese consulate issued warnings in December and January saying travel to New Zealand is unsafe.

China is a huge market. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) forecasts by 2024, Chinese tourists will be worth $3 billion a year, overtaking Australia as New Zealand's largest tourism market.

The tourism industry is downplaying the concerns but is worried all this talk about a scrap with China will be self-fulfilling.

"We may be creating an issue here, if this gets traction and gets a lot of coverage back in China" Chris Roberts, Tourism Industry Aotearoa CEO, said.

Some New Zealand exports to China have faced delays. A Sanford salmon shipment to China has been abruptly halted.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says there are no signs of anything out of the ordinary at the Chinese border - it's the usual hold ups.

But those who study China say the super power is sending New Zealand a message.

"Clearly, over the last year or so, we've run into a number of different issues" Jason Young, NZ China Research Centre Direct, said.

He says this war of words doesn't necessarily mean trade or tourism will be affected.

"A lot comes down to how it's managed diplomatically."

Diplomacy is nuanced and it's difficult to tell what's business as usual and what's a genuine warning sign.

But there's one thing we can point to as very problematic for New Zealand and its relationship with China: the Prime Minister's planned trip to Beijing last year is still being delayed.

She still doesn't have a date.