Former diplomat to teach at BYU

Brent Christensen will be joining BYU faculty winter 2024. He will be teaching Taiwan relations following his retirement from the state department. (PHOTO curtesy of Brent Christensen)

Former U.S. diplomat Brent Christensen announced he will teach a 379R Political Science class at BYU next semester.

The class will take an in-depth look at the political dynamics of Taiwan as well as its relationship with the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as President Biden’s recent meeting with China’s president, Xi Jinping, Taiwan’s relevance on a global stage is gaining more and more attention.

“In recent years, there’s been a greater appreciation for Taiwan’s value to the United States and the international community. It seems like a good time to talk about why Taiwan is important and why Taiwan matters,” Christensen said.

Taiwan’s current status as a flashpoint, a place with a lot of potential conflict in world politics, makes it a high point of interest for students according to Kirk Hawkins, associate chair of the BYU Political Science program.

“We have a lot of students who care about East Asia, and Chinese-speaking communities in particular. This class will be interesting for them, for example, for an Asian Studies major, or for a political science student who has an emphasis on Asia,” Hawkins said.

Despite being an open-topics course, the class fills the requirement of an upper-level elective for those in the Political Science major.

“This is a pretty neat course because it’s being taught by someone who is a former U.S. diplomat, living and working in heading the U.S. mission in Taiwan. He has a strong, really unique, professional background that allows him to speak with a lot more knowledge and authority about the topic,” Hawkins said.

Christensen began his time in Taiwan while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His first assignment with the Foreign Service was in Taiwan, and he later served as the Deputy Director then the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan.

The U.S. does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. Because of this, AIT was established to fulfill the functions of an embassy. According to Christensen, the director would therefore fill the role of ambassador.

As director of AIT, Christensen leads the Institute in its four goals of building security and defense relationships in Taiwan, building economic and commercial relationships in Taiwan, building people-to-people relationships and aiding Taiwan in playing a more important role in and expanding international spaces.

“It was really my dream job in the Foreign Service,” Christensen said.

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