The Australian

By Yiwei Wang

A YEAR after atomic bombs flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein said: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." This was much-quoted after September 11, 2001.

Although it has been 10 years since that day, the problem persists: the American people have not changed their mode of thinking and are neglecting the lessons of the tragic event.

These are the seven obvious lessons that the US should have learnt.

► History is not over. The greatest warning from the 9/11 catastrophe is that history does not end here and now. Today, it is undeniable international relations are going through democratisation and showing diversified development patterns.

► Get your history right. The US misinterpreted history after the Cold War. It thought that the downfall of communism was the triumph of US liberal democracy. This has led to the decline of America's strategy over the past decade.

The result is that the US lost the opportunity to be introspective about its means of production, lifestyle and mindset as it slid further into the swamp of Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya.

After the internet bubble burst, the US lost the strategic opportunity to rectify its economy and plunged headlong into the Wall Street financial crisis.

There is a saying in China: "Misfortune might be a blessing in disguise. Success at the expense of a rival's downfall usually ends in one's own destruction."

► The US is defending an unsustainable way of life. After 9/11, the US should have taken the opportunity to reflect on its way of life rather than focus on its rivals. George W. Bush's first national security strategy committed the US to safeguard its way of life and expand its global power. But it is exactly this unsustainable way of life that incited the 9/11 attacks.

The emerging economies, which are catching up with the developed countries, are saying "no" to the US way of life. As a result, developed countries such as the US and the European states have shifted their approach from offensive to defensive, using climate change to try to change the rules of the international game.

The Copenhagen climate change conference was a battle between developed countries that aimed to protect their way of life and developing countries that aimed to protect their way of production.

Developed countries criticised developing countries for adopting unsustainable means of production while developing countries criticised developed countries for their unsustainable way of life.

► The US needs to adapt. First, it was the "end of history". Now, the US elite has come up with another extreme concept - the "rise of the rest". The so-called "post-America era" and "G-zero age" theories are America-centric and perpetuate the "us and them" dichotomy.

For many years the world has been adapting to the US; now is the time for mutual adaptation. The US should adapt to the changing era, interact and build relationships with other nations. Nations that can adapt to changes will become the leading nations in the future.

► America's decline has nothing to do with the rise of its rivals. In the past decade, a popular misconception has been that China has become the greatest beneficiary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In fact, the rise of China is the result of globalisation, internal reforms and efforts to open up. It is the result of coping with internal and external challenges, and nothing to do with taking advantage of America's setbacks.

As Deng Xiaoping said: "China will not survive if it does not reform and open up." The exact connection between the "rise of China" and "fall of America" is yet to be determined.

► The US should build a new national identity. After 9/11, an unprecedented surge of patriotism drew the US into one foreign war after another.

Today, the US has begun withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, showing once again that patriotism should be used in moderation. The greatest lesson from 9/11 is that the US should not exaggerate its own capabilities and the threats it faces.

Many Chinese are concerned that the US will turn its focus on China now that Osama bin Laden is dead, and there is a belief that, even without 9/11, the US would still have sought out enemies in order to shape its new identity.

The rise of China poses the greatest challenge to the US, especially to its national ethos of being the best. America's high-profile return to Asia last year exacerbated such concerns. Strategists warn against the US repeating its mistake from the 20th century with China today.

Then, the US tried to contain its opponents - Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan - when their GDP reached 60 per cent of America's.

► God is not always on America's side. Printed on the US dollar note is the following: "In God We Trust". It is taken for granted that God will bless America. The 9/11 attacks clearly showed that, for the US, the fairytale of absolute homeland security no longer exists.

Trying to solve the question of "why they hate us" through 'soft power' diplomacy rather than through changing policies, practices and ways of thinking is futile.

To summarise the seven lessons, the key message is that the US faces the great challenge of uncertainty.

Uncertainty for the first time has overtaken certainty and has become an important foreign policy challenge.

China and the US should join hands to tackle challenges in this era of uncertainty. To this end, we have to prevent a fast decline of the US and an equally fast rise of China.

China and the US should accommodate each other and build a new relationship through interaction, to respond to the needs of two types of economy (emerging and developed), of two cultures (East and West) and two worlds (developing and developed). Most important, the two countries should face the challenge of uncertainty in the world together.

The US is making strategic attempts to build a new Sino-US relationship and new international orders; however, as shown through G2 (the China-US Group of Two), China is still lukewarm on the idea.

In reality, there is a serious asymmetry of mindset between China and the US - America is concerned about the rise of China and China is concerned about its own stability; America is concerned about its decline and China is concerned about containment by America.

The possible outcome of overestimating China's strength and underestimating America's strength may be a tragedy in the making.

Yiwei Wang is a professor at Tongji University and the executive director of the Institute of International and Public Affairs. This is an extract of his essay, translated from Chinese, in the latest edition of American Review published by the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, now an iPad application