Peter Jennings Goes to Asia to Shape His Next `First Draft of History'

IT'S getting down to the wire. ABC senior editor and anchor Peter Jennings's already full schedule has been bulging recently with lunches and meetings with leading experts on the Pacific Rim. He's been gearing up for ``World News Tonight's'' week-long telecasts from Japan and Korea, starting Monday. Hirohito's funeral, says Mr. Jennings during a Monitor interview in his office, provides an opportunity for ABC News to broaden its coverage of a vitally important area. That coverage, he says, is ``not perhaps much more than the first rough draft of history - which is what we always write - but more significant than what we do on a daily basis.'' All three networks will be sending crews to Japan to cover the funeral.

Taking ``World News Tonight'' on the road means that a few weeks ago Jennings sent one producer to Japan and another to Korea with story assignments. A third crew will cover the funeral. When he arrives, he'll review the producers' work, often editing up until air time.

``There are a couple of things that really interest me,'' Jennings says, with the combination of measured gravity and enthusiasm that characterizes his on-air delivery. ``I sense that the US-Korean relationship is going to be a very difficult one in the next year or two, and that we may end up treating the Koreans rather like we'd like to be treating the Japanese but can't any longer, because the Japanese have become a more powerful force.

``Somebody was reminding me the other day that the Japanese had got their hands on 95 percent of the microchip industry before the US responded, but that the Koreans had no sooner touched 5 percent of the microchip industry than they got a warning. I see the potential for an American offensive against the Koreans, and I see a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Korea. I'm also interested in ... the potential for conflict between the generations in Japan - the old generation, for which effort was reward in itself, and the new generation, which you hear ... is beginning to say, `What is the reward to me for all this effort I'm putting in?'''

Jennings says he believes that stories from overseas must have a large cultural and historical component, ``because I don't think we understand the Japanese very well. ... So if we do a story on Japanese work habits compared to American, it has a lot to do with the homogeneity of their culture; it has something to do with their religions; it has a lot to do with being a male-dominated society.''

The importance of the Pacific Rim, he says, is something that America is just waking up to. ``We [Americans] still know altogether too little about the developing world. ... I think, as we lose our place as the automatic No. 1 in the world, which we held for so long after World War II, we become more aware of our competitors in the world, and we become more aware of our allies.''

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