(Bloomberg) -- China’s new ambassador to Australia has called for the two countries to get their relationship “back to the right track” after more than four years of chilly diplomatic relations, saying he saw his role as a “noble mission.”

Xiao Qian, Beijing’s new top diplomat in Canberra, said the two governments were at a “critical juncture” in a statement issued shortly after he arrived in Australia on Wednesday.

The relationship faced “many difficulties and challenges as well as enormous opportunities and potentials,” he said, adding that he looked forward “to working with the Australian government and friends in all sectors to increase engagement and communication.” 

Relations between the Chinese government and Australia have deteriorated since 2017, when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced legislation against foreign interference in politics -- a measure Beijing’s leaders saw as targeting China. 

His successor Scott Morrison’s call in 2020 for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic further soured the relationship, with Australian exports including coal, wine and meat subsequently facing difficulties entering Chinese ports.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said on Wednesday that China’s “economic coercion” against the country had been unsuccessful, with no new sanctions being imposed in a year. 

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Tehan said the trade barriers showed that the commercial relationship between Australia and China was “in both countries’ interests.”

“My hope is that over time there will be recognition of that and we’ll be able to work through these current disputes we’re dealing with,” he said.

A report by the bank AMP Ltd. released on Thursday found the total value of Australian exports to China impacted by the trade disputes was AUD$23 billion ($16.3 billion), less than 5% of total exports. The report said producers of key goods had found alternate markets outside of China, including for wheat, barley and cotton.

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