While the American public became more aware of Chinese cyber influence campaigns during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, they did not start there – and they will not end there, either. As the world’s attention returns to the origins of the global pandemic and recommits to its containment, the United States must prepare for inevitable shifts in Chinese methods and goals in its cyber influence activities – likely beyond what Western countries have previously experienced in dealing with China. China’s attempts to shape the global narrative around the origins of the pandemic were, by most metrics, a failure. But based on experience with other recent Chinese cyber influence campaigns, this failure will likely trigger a re-assessment and recalibration of overseas influence tactics in the coming months.
The United States – and the rest of the global community – should prepare for this shift by watching a context where it has happened before: Chinese cyber operations in Taiwan surrounding its 2020 elections. An analysis of that context can help us understand the extent of China’s capabilities and how influence trends change before and after major influence campaigns.