Administration officials say that based on their assessments a full cutoff of access to Taiwan is unlikely — in large part because it would hurt China’s own economy at a time of severe economic slowdown. On Friday, the Group of 7 industrialized nations, the core of the Western alliance, warned China not to retaliate for Ms. Pelosi’s visit, clearly an effort to suggest that China would be widely condemned for overreacting, much as Russia was for its invasion of Ukraine.
But American officials say they worry that the events of the next few days could trigger an unintended confrontation between China’s forces and Taiwan’s, especially if the Chinese military launches a missile over the island, or if an incursion into disputed airspace leads to a midair conflict. Something similar happened 20 years ago, when a Chinese military aircraft collided with an American intelligence-gathering plane.
As the military exercises began early Wednesday, White House and Pentagon officials were monitoring the situation closely, trying to figure out if China was sending forces into each of the areas near Taiwan’s coast it has declared closed. But their assessment was that China’s strategy is to intimidate and coerce, without triggering a direct conflict.
Outside experts were more concerned that the exercise could escalate.
“This is one of the scenarios that is difficult to deal with,’’ said Bonny Lin, who directed the Taiwan desk at the Pentagon and held other defense positions before moving to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where she heads the China Power Project. “If a military exercise transitions to a blockade, when does it become clear that the exercise is now a blockade? Who should be the first to respond? Taiwan’s forces? The United States? It’s not clear.”