"India's vision of the Indo-Pacific region is a positive one," the 67-year-old said in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue — an annual meeting of global defense officials in Singapore. "By no means do we see it directed at any country," he said. "New Delhi's engagement in the area will be inclusive."
A "free and open Indo-Pacific" is the cornerstone of the U.S. strategy for Asia and many believe the phrase is a reference to Beijing's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.
Modi said Friday that the term Indo-Pacific "includes all nations in this geography" as well as other countries that have stakes in the area.
He also highlighted his country's leadership in the Indian Ocean, a region where China has been building up its naval presence with defense and commercial facilities that include a military base in Djibouti.
The international waterway "holds the key to our future," he said. "When the oceans are open, seas are secure, countries are connected, the rule of law prevails ... nations small and large prosper as sovereign countries."
In retaliation for increased Chinese activity in an area considered to be India's backyard, Modi's government has developed naval ports with countries such as Indonesia, the Seychelles and Oman.
"Competition is normal ... but differences must not be allowed to become disputes," he said Friday.
The relationship between India and China is key to a positive future, he said. "I firmly believe that Asia and the world will have a better future when India and China work together in trust and confidence, sensitive to each other's interests."
Bilateral cooperation is expanding, Modi said, adding the two historical rivals "have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border," referring to an April summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Last year, Chinese construction in a disputed area — a plateau known as Donglang in China and Doklam in India — along the India-China frontier resulted in a tense standoff involving troops from both countries.
Modi visited Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week before arriving in Singapore as part of a trip that promoted his "Act East" foreign policy of building stronger ties with neighbors. Many believe the program is a counter to Beijing's growing clout in Asia, which is part of Xi's continent-spanning infrastructure program known as the "Belt and Road."