THE former prime minister John Howard believes China will move towards democracy as its affluence grows and has stressed there is no cause for alarm over its growing military and diplomatic might.
And in a message to the Nationals and other elements of the Coalition wary of foreign investment, Mr Howard said Australia should welcome Chinese investment, including that by state-owned companies.
Delivering the inaugural Sir John Downer Oration in Adelaide last night, Mr Howard said ''pressure for more democracy in China will grow''.
''I find it difficult to accept that growing economic liberalism will continue to walk hand in hand with political authoritarianism,'' he said.
''The first newly enriched generation may accept authority but their children will take affluence for granted and demand more say in running their own lives.''
Mr Howard counted one of his greatest achievements in office as forging strong bilateral relationships with both China and the US.
He maintained last night there was room for both powers in the region and he found the argument that Australia needed to choose between the two ''muddled and lacking in proper understanding''.
China's rise was good for China and the world, he said, but Australia would always be closer to the US ''because we share common values, institutions and history''.
But the Chinese already knew and understood this.
''I hope that we will understand that China knows and accepts a lot more about our history and our system of government than we often give credit for,'' he said.
''In fact, the Chinese respected the fidelity Australia had shown towards its links with the United States, although they would never say so.''
He welcomed the agreement between the Obama administration and the Gillard government to rotate US marines through Darwin, saying it was ''hardly an act of war''.
President Barack Obama's speech outlining the move was realistic, not belligerent towards China and ''restated the long-standing verities of the US-Australia relationship''.
Mr Howard said fears of the rise of China were overstated.
''As all nations who grow in power do, China is asserting herself,'' he said.
Rather than allow our perceived fears of Chinese power to morph into actual concern, we should understand that all through history nations which have grown in stature and power usually arm themselves with more strident diplomatic attitudes, as well a more military hardware, he said.