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Former US Diplomat on US-Asia Relations

Nicholas Platt (

Nicholas Platt (

How do you envision the mandate of the Asia Society changing in the coming decade? In other words, how would you like to see this institution, which you have headed for over a decade, evolve in the coming years?

I think the involvement of the United States in Asia is going to increase. This is all part of the globalization process: if you look at the role that Asian Americans play in American society, if you look at the role that Asian culture, food, music, visual arts, fashion and so forth, play in our daily lives now compared to when I started here or when the Asia Society started, you see that we are on an upward and outward trend. It will give the Asia Society plenty to work with in terms of explaining these things, bringing them to the attention of American audiences.

We started, in the early-90s, to move decisively towards the Asian American community and we will continue that trend under the new leadership without any question. The Asian American community, in its various different forms - Indian American, Chinese American, Korean American, so forth - will start to assert themselves more in the political arena as well as the cultural and other arenas in which they are already influential.

I would like to see the Society enhance its technological reach. In the last 10 years, we have gone from no capability to the ability to reach over 2 million individual internet users a year through our wonderful websites. Now I think we need to add to that a streaming technology that would enable other people to have access to our programs at times of their own choosing. We have developed teleconferencing ability that enables us to have conferences and conversations simultaneously in widely differing places. We have done them in Hong Kong and the US, India and the US and so on, and this is a big leap forward.

There are people throughout the region who would love to hear speeches, hear seminars, look at exhibitions, see performances and so on, who cannot stay up all night to do it. Now the technology exists which enables you to stream that. I would like to see that happen. It is expensive and we will have to figure out how to do it but it is the next big step in terms of expanding our reach, not only in terms of touching people and having them get information from our websites, but also taking advantage of the very careful thought that has gone into our programming.

Do you intend to continue in any formal way your interest in Asia following your retirement?

I will remain interested in Asia for the rest of my life. It has been a passion, a central theme, and I am planning to spend the next phase writing and, hopefully, at some point, teaching or lecturing on Asia. In this job, I have had to spend most of my time managing, and much of managing is showing up and being in lots of different places at once, making sure that there is funding, that everyone is working together. All of these things make for a wonderful mix of interesting work but I have only had a limited amount of time to write and think. Now I want to turn to that. I have got some things to say and I have done some things that I want to be able to remember. I do not envisage doing a memoir that covers what I did all day long which nobody would be interested in! I do envisage writing some things about what I did and what they teach us about today. One of the essences of teaching and communication is to combine analytical constructs and concepts with good stories. So what I want to do is work on both the concepts and the stories.

I expect to be extremely busy. During my time here, I was also able to take part in a number of so-called Track Two exercises between Indians and Pakistanis, as between Catholic and Muslim Filipinos. We have also made contacts with some elements of society in Iran. I plan to keep up with these things. It is possible to participate in these ventures under lots of different auspices but I would be happy to fly the Asia Society flag over those efforts if that is what people want.