When American millionaire and philanthropist John D Rockefeller III founded the Asia Society in August 1956, his dream was to build intellectual, cultural and commercial links across the Pacific at a time when the United States' focus was still very much on its transatlantic partnerships. It was just three years after the end of the Korean War and four years after the end of the US occupation of Japan and most Americans still thought of Asia as remote and exotic. Rockefeller's goal was to educate Americans about Asia and bring Asians and Americans together. Forty years on, the Asia Society has built up an enviable network of contacts in political, business and academic circles and made an impressive name for itself in publishing, education, the theatre and the arts. As part of the society's year-long 40th anniversary programme, at the weekend it brought together in Hong Kong dozens of business people, academics, government ministers and officials from the US and all over Asia to discuss economic developments and pressing political, security and trade concerns in the Asia-Pacific region. To Asia Society president Nicholas Platt, the high-powered turnout at the four-day 'Williamsburg Conference' was a measure of the organisation's success. 'We have good convening power,' he said. 'We are very influential.' Rockefeller's work had obviously had some impact. Inevitably this year the main focus of the closed-door discussions was the handover (kicked off by a keynote speech by Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang). That was why the conference had come to Hong Kong this year for the first time since 1974. It was, said Mr Platt, a place where Asian delegates could network with each other as much as with colleagues from the US. And with confidentiality strictly preserved, delegates felt free to speak their minds. Mr Platt's background is in the US foreign service. A Chinese speaker, he spent most of his career in China, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia or working on Asian affairs in the US. Nevertheless, he insists the Asia Society is a private organisation, not a foreign affairs arm of the US Government. Just three of its 115 staff are former foreign service officers and only a tiny proportion of its budget is from the US Government. The funding comes from individuals, corporations and foundations and it certainly does not put the US Government's case. Mr Platt stressed that regional conferences are only part of what the society does. 'If it was just a think-tank, just a publisher, just an art gallery or a theatre or just an education centre for children and adults, I don't think I would still be there,' he said. 'But being all those things and being them in the US and from Australasia to northeast Asia makes it a very compelling job.' Among its many projects, one that the president is particularly proud of is the new educational Web site for children from kindergarten to grade 12, which offers a 'new inventory for teaching material on Asia'. Meanwhile, the Asia Society's publishing arm has just produced a study by various authors on the implications of the handover for both sides of the Pacific. The fact that most of the authors are American or American-Chinese, gives some indication of how well Rockefeller's project has worked.