Concern is mounting that Japan's attempt to boost ties with India to stabilize the regional security environment may run up against Washington's wariness of what it sees as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's authoritarian style of politics.

Especially in recent years, Japan, holder of the Group of Seven presidency in 2023, and Western nations have appeared keen to deepen economic and security cooperation with India, a democracy, to counter Russia and China, which are often labeled as autocratic states.

But India and the United States have been at odds over values that Washington prioritizes, such as human rights, with Modi, who took office in 2014, seen as clamping down on critics of his government.

Given the rising geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan -- an Asian power and close U.S. security ally -- should build trust with India while respecting their differences and without imposing Western values on New Delhi, pundits said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (R) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi shake hands before their talks in Hiroshima, western Japan, on May 20, 2023. (Pool photo)(Kyodo) 

India is likely to become one of the major global powers in the near future. It is set to surpass China in 2023 as the most populous nation on Earth, while possibly overtaking Japan to become the world's third-biggest economy by 2030.

In March, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited India, this year's chair of the Group of 20 economies, with an eye on receiving support from Modi for the success of the three-day G-7 summit through Sunday in the western city of Hiroshima.

Kishida, representing a Hiroshima constituency, invited Modi to the G-7 summit as a guest and they agreed to maintain a rules-based international order in the face of Russia's aggression against Ukraine and China's increasing military assertiveness in the region.

India is part of the Quad, the four-way security framework involving Japan, the United States and Australia. In recent years, the group of democracies has gained traction as a counterweight to China amid the escalating Sino-U.S. rivalry.

But India is also a key member of the "Global South," a term that collectively refers to developing economies in areas including Asia, Africa and Latin America, many of which have avoided taking a position on Russia's war in Ukraine.

India is not an exception, as the country is highly dependent on Russia for military and energy supplies. Tokyo has bolstered economic sanctions on Moscow in tandem with other democracies, but India has refrained from implementing its own punitive measures.

"There are numerous states in the Global South that were formerly colonized by the West. They have a strong and deep-rooted sense of discrimination," said Satoru Nagao, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

"If they join sanctions, nations in the Global South, which import food and resources from Russia, would harm their citizens," Nagao said, adding they believe that the advanced economies "should seek cooperation while understanding such circumstances."

India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc led by China and Russia, indicating its willingness to pursue friendly relations with the two countries.

Moreover, New Delhi has been frustrated with apparent interference by Washington in its domestic human rights issues, with Joe Biden, who became president in January 2021, placing promotion of U.S.-style democracy at the center of his foreign policy.

The U.S. State Department said earlier this year that there are "significant" human rights abuses in India, listing the government's arbitrary killings and detentions, unlawful interference with privacy as well as restrictions on freedom of expression.

New York-based Human Rights Watch echoed the view, saying in its report that the government led by Modi's Hindu nationalist ruling party "continued its systematic discrimination and stigmatization of religious and other minorities, particularly Muslims."

The organization added, "Authorities intensified efforts to silence civil society activists and independent journalists by using politically motivated criminal charges, including terrorism, to jail those exposing or criticizing government abuses."

Nevertheless, India has touted itself as the "mother of democracy." Modi has been quoted by local media as asserting that democracy is not merely a structure but also the spirit of equality.

Toru Ito, a professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan, said in a report for the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo that it is still "essential" for Japan to draw closer to India, considering the present and future power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ito said Kishida has recognized the divergent values between India and the United States and adopted a different stance toward New Delhi than Biden.

During his visit to India in March, Kishida said in his speech on a new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific, a vision advocated by slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that India has developed "the largest democracy in the world."

"Both Japan and India have unique historical backgrounds. The people of the two countries humbly acknowledge that there are diverse values, cultures and histories on this planet, and that fully understanding them is not an easy task," Kishida added.

Ito said Japan's policy of not intervening in the substance of human rights issues in India and instead stressing the importance of a rules-based international order "can be seen as a diplomatically prudent approach" for regional security stability.

A Japanese ruling lawmaker said Kishida, who served as foreign minister for around five years before becoming premier in October 2021, has "put emphasis" on ties with India, while "trying to understand the situation" in the South Asian nation.

Kishida's trip to India in March came weeks after Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi skipped a gathering of top diplomats from the G-20 countries, held in New Delhi. His absence triggered a backlash, casting a shadow over bilateral relations.

The lawmaker said Kishida's "swift" visit to New Delhi and his speech suggesting Japan's acceptance of India's values have "prevented ties between the two Asian nations from deteriorating."