China’s chief envoy to Australia was heckled by several protesters in Sydney on Friday as he delivered a speech that attempted to go some way toward repairing relations between the trading partners. 

One shouted about the detention of members of the Uighur minority group in China, while another protester called ambassador Xiao Qian “a disgrace” as he addressed the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology.

Since the election of center-left Australian leader Anthony Albanese last month, Australia and China have been cautiously exploring reopening diplomatic communications after a pause of more than two years. In June, Australia’s new Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles met with his counterpart Defence Minister Wei Fenghe in Singapore.

Between interruptions to his speech on Friday, Xiao said that the ministerial talks between China and Australia were “very significant” following the difficult period in relations. 

“Perhaps more important is how we can maintain the momentum and put our relationship back on the right track,” said Xiao, Beijing’s representative in Canberra. 

The diplomatic freeze between Canberra and Beijing set in after former Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 in April 2020. That outraged China and led to trade barriers being enforced on Australian imports, including meat, wine and coal.

Xiao said there had been a change in attitude among Chinese people toward Australia in recent years, following actions of the previous government including the call for a Covid inquiry and its ban on Huawei Technologies Co. participating in the country’s 5G network. 

However, the escalation of tariffs was related to concerns about dumping by Australian businesses and didn’t amount to “official sanction measures,” he said.