President Joe Biden's administration tried Friday to defuse heated Chinese warnings against a possible trip to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Beijing announced live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait.
Pelosi is reportedly about to leave on an Asian tour that would include Taiwan -- although she pointedly refused to confirm Friday that she would visit the self-ruled island citing travel security considerations.
China sees any such stop by the speaker as a provocation, upsetting the tense status quo under which Washington formally recognizes China's sovereignty claim over the island -- while backing the democratic Taiwanese government.
"We have many differences when it comes to Taiwan, but over the past 40-plus years, we have managed those differences and done it in a way that has preserved peace and stability and has allowed the people on Taiwan to flourish," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"It would be important as part of our shared responsibility to continue to manage this in a wise way that doesn't create the prospect for conflict and keeping open lines of communication on this issue."
The temperature has been steadily rising in Beijing over the prospect of a Pelosi trip.
A day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Biden in a lengthy phone call that the United States shouldn't "play with fire" when it comes to Taiwan, the communist country's state-run media announced drills in the region Saturday.
"Live ammunition will be fired... between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm (0000-1300 GMT) and any entry (into these waters) will be prohibited", said a government statement.
The statement did not mention Pelosi. Also, the location of the exercise is just off mainland China's shore, rather than out at sea in the straits nearer to Taiwan.
However, there appears to be little doubt in the messaging.
While U.S. officials often make discreet visits to the island in a show of support for its democratic self-ruling government, Pelosi is second in line to the U.S. presidency and one of the country's most powerful politicians.
Pelosi, who would be traveling on U.S. military aircraft during her Asia tour, told reporters Friday that she planned the trip because of the Biden administration's "strong emphasis" on the Asia-Pacific region.
But she continued to refuse to confirm or deny plans for a stop in Taiwan. "I don't ever talk about my travels, because some of you know, it's a security issue," she said.
- 'Shoot them down' -
What China might actually do remains unclear.
A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said "a visit to Taiwan by Speaker Pelosi would challenge China's red line, and any challenge to our red line will no doubt be met with resolute countermeasures."
In his comments to Biden, reported by Chinese state media, Xi made an equally heated, but vague statement, saying "those who play with fire will eventually get burned."
The area where Saturday's Chinese maneuvers are set to take place is located on Pingtan island, which is in the Taiwan Straits, but about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the actual Taiwanese coast.
However, a commentator for the state-run Global Times newspaper urged intercepting Pelosi's plane.
"If U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi's plane into Taiwan, it is invasion. The PLA has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi's plane and the U.S. fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction. If ineffective, then shoot them down," wrote Hu Xijin.
John Kirby, spokesman for Biden's National Security Council, played down what he called "bellicose rhetoric."
"We've seen no physical, tangible indications of anything untoward with respect to Taiwan," he said.
Stressing there was no change in the U.S. policy of acknowledging Beijing's legal sovereignty over Taiwan, Kirby also said "there's no need" for China to react so harshly.
While Pelosi is a close political ally of fellow Democrat Biden, her diplomatic foray has put the president in a tricky position as he tries managing an increasingly high-stakes relationship with China.
Despite the tension, however, Biden and Xi agreed in their call Thursday to set up a first in-person summit at a still to be decided date.
"The president believes it's really important to keep open lines of communication," Kirby said.