From trade relations to basketball star Yao Ming, Asia Society President Nicholas Platt sees an improvement in U.S. relations with Asia despite its deteriorating relations with Europe.

Platt, the former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and Pakistan, gave a lecture Monday afternoon at the Law School about the current state of U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

“I never thought I was ever going to give a talk that was very supportive of the Bush administration policies,” Platt said.

Platt cited numerous examples of improvements in foreign relations between America and Asia — from Japan’s decision to dispatch military units in Iraq to talks with Chinese leaders that have “cemented the highest level of cooperation in recent years.” The speech was co-sponsored by the Asia Law Forum and the International Security Studies program.

“It seems to me that in the post Cold War era, Asia has become more important to U.S. strategic interests than Europe is,” said Platt, who accompanied President Richard Nixon on his historic visit to China in 1972.

The cause of such drastic improvement can be partly explained by the enhanced economic relations with Asian countries, he said. Stronger economic ties have made both Asia and the United States more open to discussion and compromise.

“Economic relationships provide a ballast in the region,” Platt said. “If we didn’t have such a high level of trade with China, we would have been thrown off course with the spy plane incident in 2000.”

Economic ties have also proved beneficial in America’s diplomatic relations with India and Pakistan, Platt said. Leaders of those countries now feel that their disputes have prevented them from reaping economic benefits.

In addition to economics, Platt said certain individuals in the Bush administration have also had a major impact on bilateral relations.

“If you look at the backgrounds of the Bush administration officials, you can see many with long and strong experience in Asia,” said Platt.

Platt said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly are two prominent officials who have promoted interests in Asia.

But in addition to political leaders and diplomats, Platt also said the United States must not forget the importance of more personal relationships with China.

“The biggest people-to-people relationship we have is basketball,” Platt said. “Millions in China watch the Houston Rockets every week; they watch Yao Ming.”

Platt followed his lecture with a short question-and-answer session, during which audience members posed numerous questions about whether or not there will be a lasting stability with China. Platt responded by saying conflict can be prevented through stronger economic and political ties.

“If you want to be safe, your strategy is to be so intertwined that conflict becomes unthinkable,” Platt said.

Audience members said they were impressed by Platt’s breadth of knowledge.

“I’ve always admired his ability to cover a large amount of information in a short amount of time,” said history professor Jonathan Spence, a long time colleague of Platt’s.

Others said they were glad that Platt linked current trends to past events.

“He’s very informative in articulating not only the changes in the ’70s, but the issues today and the next five years,” Melissa Wisner ’05 said.