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Demographic Engineering and International Conflict: Evidence from China and the Former USSR

  • Lachlan McNamee and Anna Zhang
Abstract

When and where do states coercively alter their internal demography? We build a theory that predicts under what conditions states alter the demographic “facts on the ground” by resettling and expelling ethno-national populations. We predict that, under particular scope conditions, states will employ demographic engineering to shore up control over (1) nonnatural frontiers, and (2) areas populated by ethnic minorities who are co-ethnics with elites in a hostile power. We then substantiate our predictions using new subnational data from both China and the USSR. Causally identifying the spatially differential effect of international conflict on demographic engineering via a difference-in-differences design, we find that the Sino-Soviet split (1959–1982) led to a disproportionate increase in the expulsion of ethnic Russians and resettlement of ethnic Han in Chinese border areas lacking a natural border with the USSR, and that resettlement was targeted at areas populated by ethnic Russians. On the Soviet side, we similarly find that the Sino-Soviet split led to a significant increase in expulsion of Chinese and the resettlement of Russians in border areas, and that resettlement was targeted at areas populated by more Chinese. We develop the nascent field of political demography by advancing our theoretical and empirical understanding of when, where, and to whom states seek to effect demographic change. By demonstrating that both ethnic group concentration and dispersion across borders are endogenous to international conflict, our results complicate a large and influential literature linking ethnic demography to conflict.

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We thank Avi Acharya, Claire Adida, Michael Albertus, Lisa Blaydes, Songying Fang, Jim Fearon, Jackelyn Hwang, David Laitin, Hans Lueders, Scott Newman, Jean Oi, Jonathan Rodden, Aliya Saperstein, Ken Scheve, Ken Schultz, Mike Tomz, Jeremy Weinstein, and participants in the 2017 Midwest Political Science Association conference, the 2017 Australian Quantitative Political Science Conference, the Stanford China Social Sciences Workshop, Stanford International Relations Workshop, Stanford Migration Ethnicity Race and Nation Workshop, the Higher School of Economics, the 2018 Pacific International Politics Conference, 2018 International Political Science Association Annual Meeting, and the 2018 Peace Science Studies Annual Meeting for valuable comments. Many thanks also to three anonymous reviewers and to the editors of IO for their comments which greatly improved the paper.

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