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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Twitter Diplomat Who Wants to Connect the World

For the month of April we're profiling the individuals who made our inaugural list of the 30 top thinkers under 30, the young men and women we predict will have a serious impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day here at Pacific Standard.
Tiananmen Square as seen from the Monument to the People's Heroes in 1988. (Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor/Wikimedia Commons)

Tiananmen Square as seen from the Monument to the People's Heroes in 1988. (Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor/Wikimedia Commons)

Eugene Yi, 28, Public Affairs

Eugene Yi’s proudest accomplishment happened while he was working as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Tasked with covering Internet freedom, he met an elderly Chinese couple, survivors of the Cultural Revolution. Their goal was to start holding town hall meetings in their local bookstore next to Tiananmen Square. They wanted to kindle open dialogue with intellectuals, politicians, and students. Yi worked to make the couple’s dream a reality.

Before his diplomacy job in China, the Department of Defense had hired Yi right out of Princeton (he graduated with honors and won the university’s International Service Award) as a national-security strategist for the defense secretary. For his work there, including a report on China’s military power, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Eugene Yi. (Photo: Twitter)


Today, Yi works for Twitter. He represents the social-media company in Asia by working with governments on Internet policy issues like freedom of expression, privacy, and security. When asked what motivates him, Yi says, “meeting Twitter users around the world who remark that the free discourse and information-sharing has empowered people who face oppression and helped build the foundation of an educated democracy.”

After getting his undergraduate degree at Princeton, Yi went back to get a masters degree from the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Public Affairs, graduating again in 2013, which is when he joined Twitter. During graduate school, he started a company called Glotify, a crowd-sourced translation service.

Originally from Seattle, Yi speaks Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. He went into public affairs out of “a desire to serve my community and my country” and also because of a former professor of his, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Department of State’s former director of policy planning. Slaughter, Yi says, “challenged and emboldened me to pursue a career in public policy and adapt my thinking to reflect the changing conventions and processes of policymaking in the 21st century.”

If he could have lunch with anyone, though, it would be Kim Jong-un. “I would like to chat with him freely,” Yi says, “about his vision for North Korea’s future as one of the most closed nations in the world and gauge his openness to engaging in Twitter diplomacy.”

Before he retires, Yi hopes to have helped foster an online media environment that’s “governed by a sense of justice and rules and norms that advances ties among people.” In 50 years, he wants us to be “living in a more interconnected world that exceeds my imagination in how people have formed global cosmopolitan centers.”

Outside of work, Yi goes mountain hiking and is training for an Ironman triathlon. His life philosophy, he says, is to “act with conviction.”

See our complete 2014 list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 here.