Chinese Connection

Humanities alum Tim Stratford has used his education, skills, and experience to become globally recognized as an expert on international law and Chinese relations.

As a young man, Tim Stratford was like many BYU students. After starting his college education, he was called to serve a mission. But his two-year service in the China Hong Kong Mission would forever change the direction of his life.

After his mission, Stratford returned to BYU with a strong interest in Chinese language and culture, and he decided to major in Chinese and philosophy. Upon his graduation from BYU, he enrolled at—and later graduated from—Harvard Law School.

Stratford has since become a notable player in the realm of international law and Chinese relations. Since 1982 Stratford has lived and worked continuously in China, except for the five years he spent in Washington, DC, in government service. After working at a law firm and then in commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Stratford was called in 1992 to serve as president of the Taiwan Taichung Mission. After his mission presidency, he was a law partner for Coudert Brothers in Beijing, general counsel for General Motors in China, and then the assistant U.S. trade representative for U.S.-China relations. He currently is a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, managing the Beijing office.

As Stratford has lived many years in China, he has watched the country undergo major changes. “We were able to witness what I think is the greatest transformation of a large group of people that has ever taken place in the history of this world. Never before have so many people changed in so many profound ways so rapidly as we have seen in China in the last 30 years,” Stratford said in a 2013 lecture at BYU. “Today a degree in Chinese is more valuable than ever before.”

In addition to the obvious value of his Chinese major for his career, Stratford explained to the BYU audience how his philosophy major has benefited his life: “Philosophy helps you understand more clearly what people really think. It teaches you to listen, to read carefully, to ask questions, to define your terms, and to recognize the assumptions that are being made in a conversation. Philosophy is extremely helpful to you whenever the task at hand involves understanding and reconciling differences in opinion, which happens frequently in the business world.”

As China becomes a greater force in the market, Stratford encourages those studying Chinese, or any language, to professionalize their skills. “To those of you who are studying Chinese, I would say that if you really want to use it, you’re going to have to get good at it. You’re going to have to work hard and be fluent. . . . If you can negotiate and read Chinese legal documents, you will really set yourself apart in the job market.”

Stratford has done just that. As an alumnus of BYU and the College of Humanities, Stratford has used his education, his skills, and his experience to become globally recognized as an expert on international law and Chinese relations.

—Stephanie Bahr Bentley (’14)