Southeast Asia's internal affairs and problems as ""the cockpit of conflict between the U.S. and China"" interpreted by an ex-Wall Street Journal and Newsweek man who's seen some of it at first hand. He sketches ancient and recent historical background, with cursory mention of the colonial period. Country by country, he does so-so with complicated Laotian politics, gives Sianouk of Cambodia a fair shake. Nice profiles of Malaysian leaders and Chinese-Malay conflict; no evaluation of British economic ties. The magnitude of 1965 slaughter in Indonesia is described, but not Sukarno's unique ideology. Much space devoted to Diem's repression of the Buddhists, but--a fatal weakness, given his topic--treatment of the war is sketchy and soft-pedaled, and he says far more about Burma's domestic conditions than those of N. Vietnam. When he comes to American and Chinese policies in this arena, covert paradox abounds: China plans no military expansion, yet ""most Southeast Asians"" see it as ""a present danger."" The U.S. has ""done its best"" to support democracy, notwithstanding partnerships with rightwing dictators in Thailand and S. Victnam. Written in a journalese which refers to ""poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease"" as ""headaches,"" this is a disjointed, superficial tour not worth deploring were the need for better ones less urgent.