Harrison E. Salisbury: Orbit of China. Secker & Warburg. 30s.

Harrison Salisbury’s reports from Hanoi in 1966 for the New York Times won him a world-wide reputation, and in this book he describes a series of visits made in the same year to other countries bordering China—Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, Sikkim, the Soviet Union and Japan. Some of his analysis has been overtaken by more recent events. China’s relations with japan have worsened as have those with Burma, and its explosion of an H-bomb has outdated some of his speculations on Chinese nuclear capacity. But much of his account is interesting. His account of the American build-up in Thailand and of the Soviet build-up in Mongolia and Siberia is extremely useful, and he provides a lot of anecdotal background on Laos, Burma and Sikkim.

There are, however, certain journalistic weaknesses. First, there are several factual errors: the ‘high noon of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ was not 1950 but 1954–55; the Mongols did not conquer Budapest, it was the Turks; and the Japanese language is not ‘derived’ (p. 159) from Chinese, only the script. His analysis of the 1962 Sino—Indian war blandly assumes that it was started by the Chinese. He gives a lot of coverage to the military build-up by China’s main neighbours, but never discusses the fundamental problem of what effect this is having on the Chinese.

He also recedes into geopolitical mysticism in his final chapters when he discusselrthe problem of population in China and says ‘one could project on a chart the year when China’s rulers would be forced into agressive action across their frontiers in search of food for the rice-bowls of their people’. This analysis of China in terms of a macrocosmic determinism is neither useful nor convincing. The main failing of the book is precisely that by going on his ‘orbit’ Salisbury gained a totally distorted and mystified view of China itself. The main strength of the book is therefore to be found not in his speculations on China but in his accounts of the ‘orbital’ countries themselves, their politics and leaders.

Fred Halliday