Among all the countries outside the U.S. that are key to Japan’s strategic imperatives, Australia stands out.

Relations between Tokyo and Canberra have been strong for decades, but the rise of China and a host of other economic and security challenges have increased the need for bilateral cooperation and coordination — a task Canberra has put in the hands of Justin Hayhurst, Australia’s new ambassador to Japan.

“We've never been more important to each other,” Hayhurst said in an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, emphasizing how critical the Tokyo-Canberra relationship has become in shaping the future of the Indo-Pacific region amid what he described as “growing risks to peace and stability.”