Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian has signalled relations between China and Australia could thaw, with a “potential for cooperation and bright prospects”. 

But Mr Xiao did not outline what “concrete actions” Beijing and Canberra would need to take to end the deep freeze. 

In an address at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney on Friday, Mr Xiao said the relationship between the two countries had been an “undeniably” difficult period. 

“China’s policy of a friendly cooperation towards Australia remains unchanged,” he said. 

“Looking into the future, China-Australia relations enjoy greater potential for cooperation and bright prospects. 

“That’s the message that I brought with me from China.”

A group of protesters crashed the event at the Sydney university, and interrupted him minutes into his address.

They shouted about the large scale detention of the Uyghurs, a minority ethnic group in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

“You’re a disgrace,” a protester shouted. 

“What about freedom of expression.” 

Anti-Chinese Communist Party activist Drew Pavlou was removed from the event, after holding up a sign which read “Free Tibet” and “Free Hong Kong”.

The university also cut the online feed of the address several times during the interruptions.

In response to the protesters, Mr Xiao said there was such thing as “absolute freedom”. 

“Those who are attending should respect the law and order,” he said. 

When asked about the trade sanctions placed on Australia, Mr Xiao said the issue was complex and arose out of policy decisions taken by the former Morrison government. 

He said the case was with the World Trade Organisation, and both nations should seek to settle the dispute there. 

In response to a question about Australians and those with loved ones in China who are being detained, Mr Xiao said the detention of the Uyghur community was not a matter of human rights, but of “separatism” and “terrorism”. 

Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained for almost two-years and is accused of providing state secrets to foreigners. 

She has been denied visits by her children, and Australia’s Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher was barred from attending a court hearing. 

Mr Xiao said when cases involved national security, they usually were not conducted openly. 

He also said Australia needed to respect the independence of the legal process in China.

Defence Minister Richard Marles spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. 

It was the first ministerial meeting between the two countries in three years.