Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to "amplify the voices and concerns of the Global South" nations at the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, as he strives to "foster synergy" with the broader Group of 20 he is hosting this year.
Speaking exclusively with Nikkei Asia at the Prime Minister's Office in New Delhi ahead of his arrival in Japan on Friday evening, he said he was looking forward to discussing global changes and challenges in areas such as energy, digital technology and supply chains. "I will emphasize India's role as a reliable partner in addressing these challenges," he said, adding that India's experience would "resonate strongly at the meeting."
India, which is not a G-7 member, was invited by host and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has repeatedly expressed his own determination to strengthen ties with the so-called Global South, or developing world. Modi said that Japan and India's shared values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law have naturally brought them closer.
"We now see a growing convergence in our political, strategic, security, and economic interests," he said in the interview, which was conducted partly in writing and partly in person.
Despite those shared interests, there are also potential points of friction in Hiroshima. India has not explicitly condemned longtime military partner Russia for its invasion of Ukraine -- a focus for the wealthy democracies of the G-7, which aim to further tighten sanctions on Moscow. While Modi has repeatedly called for peace, and told Russian President Vladimir Putin to his face that "today's era is not an era of war," India continues to do brisk business with Russia.
Asked whether India can play a mediator role, he said his country's position on the Ukraine conflict "is clear and unwavering."
"India stands on the side of peace, and will remain firmly there. We are committed to supporting those who face challenges in meeting their basic needs, especially in the face of rising costs of food, fuel, and fertilizers. We maintain communication with both Russia and Ukraine," Modi said. "Cooperation and collaboration should define our times, not conflict."
The G-7 countries hope to pull India closer to their side, as they look to cement what they often describe as the rules-based international order. But India has long defied easy geopolitical categorization.
It is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, with the U.S., Japan and Australia. India's foreign secretary said Thursday that the quartet -- which had been scheduled to convene in Sydney next week before U.S. President Joe Biden said he was cutting his Asia trip short -- is working to arrange its own summit in Hiroshima.
Next month, Modi is due to travel to the U.S. which he called a "vital strategic partner."
But India is also a member of the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Modi stressed that New Delhi has never wedded itself to security alliances. "Instead, we engage with a wide range of friends and like-minded partners around the world based on our national interests."
The Quad countries' collective focus is on "fostering a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," he said. On the other hand, the SCO plays a significant role in India's engagement with the "important" Central Asian region. "Participating in these two groups is not contradictory or mutually exclusive for India."
"As a member of the Global South, our interest in any plurilateral setting is to serve as a bridge between diverse voices and contribute to a constructive and positive agenda," Modi said.
India took over the G-20 presidency from Indonesia in December. Soon afterward, in January, it hosted the inaugural Voice of Global South summit online, drawing 125 countries. The discussions highlighted many countries' desire for reform of international bodies for more balanced representation.
On the issue of United Nations reform, including India's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council, Modi spoke of the "limitations" of global governance institutions that remain "confined to outdated mindsets."
"These deficiencies have become evident in addressing contemporary challenges such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, and financial crises," he said. "The credibility of the U.N. Security Council and its decision-making process will always be questioned if it continues to deny representation on a permanent basis to the world's largest democracy, as well as entire continents like Africa and Latin America."
The G-7 under Japan's stewardship has made a point of reaching out to those continents, inviting Brazil and Comoros, this year's chair of the African Union.
Modi, meanwhile, also touched on India's fraught relationships with two of its closest neighbors -- China and Pakistan.
"India is fully prepared and committed to protect its sovereignty and dignity," Modi said amid the lingering Himalayan border standoff with China, while stressing New Delhi's respect for sovereignty, rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes. The tensions have strained bilateral ties, especially since a 2020 clash that left 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead -- the first deadly battle between the nuclear-armed neighbors in decades.
"Peace and tranquility in the border areas are essential for normal bilateral ties with China," Modi said. "The future development of India-China relationship can only be based on mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests," Modi said, noting that "normalizing" the ties would benefit the wider region and the world.
As for Pakistan, India's archrival since partition in 1947, Modi said New Delhi wants "normal and neighborly relations."
"However, it is incumbent upon them to create a conducive environment free from terrorism and hostilities. The onus is on Pakistan to take necessary steps in this regard."
As Modi steps up his international diplomacy, he is also keeping an eye on next year's general elections in India. He and his Bharatiya Janata Party will be seeking a third straight term in power. Still widely popular with the masses, Modi is expected to cruise to victory.
On his domestic priorities, the prime minister noted that India's economy has been one of the world's fastest-growing.
"Our progress is evident, as we have risen from being the tenth largest economy in 2014 to now being the fifth largest globally," he said. "While it is true that global headwinds pose challenges to growth, we have built a strong foundation in recent years, which positions us favorably."
He said his government's aim is to transform India into a developed nation within the next 25 years, in time to celebrate 100 years of independence.