Postimees: Rupture of Estonia-Finland gas pipeline put the Chinese on the defensive

  • 2024-03-05
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - When gas and communications interconnections at the bottom of the Baltic Sea ruptured in October, Russia was the first to be looked at, but soon the Chinese-owned ship Newnew Polar Bear became the main suspect, which put the Chinese on the "aggressive" defensive, Postimees reports. 

The NATO strategic communications center of excellence in Riga has completed several reports on Chinese and Russian media activities in recent months, which were presented in the Latvian capital last week.

In October, the rupture of pipes and cables connecting Estonia and Finland stirred up users and fake accounts on both X (formerly Twitter) and the popular Russian platform VKontakte. Speculation made in a mocking and accusatory tone abounded, suggesting that NATO might restrict Russia's access to the Baltic Sea due to incidents, and accusing NATO of violating international law.

Rolf Fredheim, an analyst at the Markolo research center focusing on Russian social media trends, said that compared to larger-scale troll campaigns, the increase in social media activity regarding the Balticconnector incident was rather marginal.

"If you want to see a real troll campaign, you should look at the messages related to Alexei Navalny. That's on a completely different level. Balticconnector wasn't a big deal in the information war. It was even smaller than one might have expected," Fredheim noted.

More than Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania has felt the brunt of the Chinese media's critiques and information attacks, mainly due to its principled and proactive Taiwan policy. While in general Estonia and Latvia have been rather invisible in the Chinese press, the Balticconnector case made the Chinese aggressively defensive.

"China tried to minimize the damage and deny the incident," said Yukai Zeng, who works at the NATO center in Riga. "We believe that China didn't want knowledge of the incident to spread widely and for its impact to spill over into other areas and relationships with the countries involved in the incident or even with Russia," noted Zeng, who added that the incident indeed made relations between countries more complicated.

Thus, according to Zeng, the Chinese first tried to shrug off the guilt, speculating that maybe another ship was above the gas pipe when it burst.

"And when that wasn't possible, they treated what happened as an accident," Zeng added.

There were also more extreme notes: for example, He Wenping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed the opinion that blaming China and Russia was a smokescreen for the real culprit (the Western countries), or a strategy to mislead the public.

China's official position at the time was that the weather was poor in the Gulf of Finland on the night of Oct. 8, but that no anomalies were found in the movement of the container ship Newnew Polar Bear, and that China has long advocated for the international community to strengthen the security of cross-border infrastructure.