U.S. Warns of 'Unintended Consequences' as China Readies Drills near Taiwan

As speculation mounted over a potential visit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the White House has warned that military activity planned by China could raise the risk of tensions spiraling out of control in the sensitive flashpoint.

As Pelosi arrived in Singapore on the first leg of her Asia trip, China's Hainan Maritime Safety Administration announced a series of People's Liberation Army exercises in the South China Sea to run from August 2 to August 6. The development accompanied a flurry of threats from Chinese diplomatic and military personnel in response to reports that Pelosi would head to Taiwan, a self-ruling island claimed by China.

Hours later, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby warned such drills, which may include live-fire missile launches, could have a harmful impact on an already precarious situation.

"What that does is it does increase the risk of miscalculation," Kirby said, "which could lead to unintended consequences, and that's really the risk."

"It's not so much that there might be a direct attack," he added, "but it raises the stakes of miscalculation and confusion, which could also lead to unintended consequences."

But Kirby did seek to downplay the notion that Pelosi's potential visit was stirring up "drama" and said "there's no reason to use a potential visit to to justify or to spark some sort of crisis or conflict."

"We certainly have no interest in that," he said. "And there's no justification to use a potential visit as a pretext to conduct what could be escalatory measures."

And as Pelosi continues her Asia trip flying in a U.S. military aircraft, Kirby asserted that "we're going to make sure that she has a safe and secure visit because that's our responsibility."

China, PLA, Eastern, Theater, Command, missile, launches
The Chinese People's Liberation Army launches missiles in this video published by the Eastern Theater Command on August 1, 2022, coinciding with the 95th anniversary of the Communist armed forces' founding. Eastern Theater Command/Chinese People's Liberation Army

Earlier on Monday, the People's Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command vowed to "bury any invading enemies" in a post attached to a nearly two-and-a-half-minute-long clip showing Chinese armed forces might at land, air and sea. The warning was later shared across other outlets, including by Chinese diplomat in Lebanon Cao Yi.

And as Kirby said the U.S. would be "watching this very, very closely," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday that Beijing would be doing the same when it came to Pelosi's possible visit to the disputed island.

He warned that such a trip, the first of its kind for a House leader in 25 years, "would constitute a gross interference in China's internal affairs, seriously undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, wantonly trample on the one-China principle, greatly threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, severely undermine China-US relations and lead to a very serious situation and grave consequences."

"We want to once again make it clear to the US side that the Chinese side is fully prepared for any eventuality," Zhao said, "and that the People's Liberation Army of China will never sit idly by, and we will make resolute response and take strong countermeasures to uphold China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

He urged the U.S. "to abide by the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, fulfill President Biden's commitment of not supporting 'Taiwan independence' and not arrange for a visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan."

The U.S. broke off official ties with Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, in favor of establishing diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979. Washington has maintained informal ties with Taipei, however, including political contacts and military support that have expanded in recent years, angering Beijing, which has vowed to retake the island by force if diplomacy did not work.

While the U.S. has long maintained strategic ambiguity as to whether or not it would come to Taiwan's defense in the event of a Chinese attack, President Joe Biden has stated on at least three occasions that he would back the island. His administration has repeatedly stressed, however, that there has been no change in U.S. policy, a stance reiterated by Kirby on Monday.

Biden held his fifth and latest call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Thursday and readouts produced by both sides placed an emphasis on the issue of Taiwan. Days earlier, the U.S. leader said "the military thinks it's not a good idea right now" for Pelosi to travel to Taiwan.

Pelosi's office has neither confirmed nor denied she was planning such a stop as she set out on scheduled visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and Biden administration officials have told reporters that the decision ultimately rested with the Speaker herself.

Newsweek has reached out to Chinese diplomat Cao Yi, the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York and the U.S. Navy for comment.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.