New Delhi: Donald Trump is embarked on a tour of East Asia for the longest duration for any US president in recent years. Will he meet with success on the tour? Not necessarily. Beyond his egocentrism to be always right, Trump does not know what he really wants.

The two crisis areas for East Asia today are North Korea’s offensive nuclear programme and China’s rise and expansion. The two countries most immediately affected by either or both of these dynamics are South Korea and Japan, and their sovereign responses so far cannot give confidence to them or to the rest of the world.

Often, changes cannot be reversed. This applies to North Korea’s military nuclear programme and to China’s breathtaking rise. South Korea and Japan fear the worst from a nuclear North Korea. They are geographically too close to the crisis situation to think clearly.

A nuclear North Korea will not change the balance of power in the region. Kim Jong-un has more sense than to indulge in nuclear blackmail against his neighbours, one of which is the partitioned half of his own country. He has a vision to make North Korea into a normal country. He wants the deterrent against American regime change plans, whose threat has increased under Donald Trump. Unfortunately, no leader in South Korea or Japan will tell Trump what he does not want to hear.

Although the South Koreans and the Japanese are terrified by the North Korean threat, they do not want war which will kill millions and uncontrollably spiral into a nuclear catastrophe. In their fear, the Japanese ironically have re-elected a prime minister whose reflexive militarism they have come to deeply distrust. The opposition failed the Japanese and they have an even stronger prime minister who lacks the wisdom, moderation and maturity to counter these terrible times. The new danger on Trump’s tour of East Asia is that he and Shinzo Abe could cook a fiery broth for the region.

Tangled with the North Korean question is China’s rise which subsumes greater risks than its adversaries are willing to grant. China is a pragmatic power. It does not have the ideological force or ambitions of the former Soviet Union. China’s success depends on the success of its economic paradigms. If it was previously the exports-oriented economy, it is Xi Jinping’s Belt and Roads Initiative (BRI) today.

Any economic principle to succeed has to have long-term durability, sustainability and acceptability. BRI is often compared to the Marshall Plan but they cannot be more different in content and context. The Marshall Plan essentially regenerated industrial economies of the West laid to waste by the two successive world wars. It was also a response to the revolutionary Soviet threat.

BRI, on the other hand, is a peacetime effort and scarcely competitive in origin. It radiates from China’s frontiers and incorporates nations that were, in the main, bypassed by the Industrial Revolution. If China’s intention is to profit and extort from BRI as the critics allege, it can only succeed for a short time. Collapse of the BRI will be accompanied by a backlash which China may not be able to handle.

If BRI fails, it will also drag the world economy down to depths from which recovery will be slow and painful. Almost certainly, the biggest casualty of failed BRI would be China itself, and the world simply cannot allow the collapse of the Chinese economy. Foresight of such failure provides an opportunity to convince China not to become hubristic about its rise. Only a rise which is peaceful and lifts the countries on its peripheries will succeed and last.

Donald Trump is absolutely the wrong man to be able to convince Xi about these things. Never having fought a war, Trump is ever ready to embrace the oxymoron of a military solution. China holds the key to peace in East Asia, but Trump is not the leader who can access the peace. It would be a good fit if the French president and the German chancellor played a role in bringing peace to the region. China and North Korea would trust them more than they would trust Trump. But would Trump step back to give real diplomacy a chance to succeed in East Asia?

For that, Trump would have to stop being Trump, and that is perhaps too much to ask. Meanwhile, cross your fingers as the US president flies to East Asia.