Headshot of Zenobia Chan

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. My substantive research focuses on economic statecraft, with further work on information operations.

My dissertation book project Alms and Influence studies when economic inducements—like foreign aid, large-scale investment initiatives, and discounted sales of natural resources—can buy influence abroad. I argue that inducements can be lucrative to not just the recipient but also the sender. This leads to what I call the inducement dilemma: when a state profits from giving inducements, it will not cut them off, even when it does not receive any concessions. Consequently, the recipient has no incentives to concede, rendering the inducement ineffective in extracting concessions. For an inducement to be useful in extracting concessions, its credibility must come from the punishment for reneging, rather than the profit from delivering. I test these dynamics in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Marshall Plan, and Russia’s energy diplomacy in the 21st century.

Another strand of my research investigates the conduct and effects of Chinese and Russian information operations abroad. In my methodological work, I am developing machine learning algorithms and software for estimating heterogeneous treatment effects in both experimental and observational data.

I was a 2021–22 USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). My research has been supported by the Minerva Research Initiative, Smith Richardson Foundation, and Facebook.

Much of my research is inspired by my background in international affairs, public policy, and software engineering. Prior to my doctoral studies, I led an analytics team at Google, Inc. and worked at the United Nations, World Bank, and OECD on development assistance, infrastructure financing, and energy and environmental policy. I hold master's degrees from Princeton, Columbia, and Sciences Po Paris, and completed my undergraduate studies at the the University of Hong Kong.