If “closest “ means the one with whom Australia has the most highly developed relationship, in economic, human and defence terms, it’s not easy to say which of Australia’s friends in Asia is the closest. Perhaps it would be Singapore. But that is a city state, albeit a very important and successful one, and probably wouldn’t be considered in the context of the question.
I would like to be able to answer “Indonesia” because of its size, proximity and the interests we share. But that relationship is too volatile to be regarded as “closest” without heavy qualifications.
China is the most important economic relationship we have in the world (despite the government giving that title to the United States) and it might in time become so engaged with Australia through trade, investment, educational, tourism and social links that we would come to see it as a friend. But that is hardly the case now with growing uncertainty about China’s intentions in the land and seas around it as it rapidly invests in expanding and increasing the power and range of its defence forces, and seeks again the dominant regional role it had for centuries up to the middle of the 19th.
I guess that leaves Japan with which we share an alliance relationship with the United States and substantial trade and investment links. And over the last fifty or sixty years Japan and Australia have developed a significant range of people-to-people links.
An important issue for the Prime Minister on his visit should be to look for ways of tapping in to Japanese naval and other technology and capacities in the context of the inevitable major investments in the RAN in the not too distant future. (The USN rates the Japanese naval self-defence force as the most capable and best trained navy in the region). The difficult and delicate issue will be striking the right note on the Diaoyu/Senkakus issue and crafting a shared position on Chinese assertiveness in the region. Whaling in the Southern Ocean is happily out of the way although as far as I know Abbott has never been a whale-hugger and would probably not have felt obliged to raise the issue. It would be courteous for him to thank Mr Aso for the Japanese government’s gracious acceptance of the International Court’s decision.
I doubt whether the Japanese will give two hoots about the extraordinary decision to reinstate from history’s skeletons the institution of knights and dames. It is likely to puzzle them less and cause them fewer doubts about us than it will the Indonesians. Indonesians used to look at our flag and some other manifestations and ask “why is Australia still under England?”.
I guess they still do – or will again.