Taiwan tensions reveal challenges for U.S. navy as Chinese threat grows

(This story refiles to correct spelling of Antietam in paragraph 15)

By Greg Torode and Idrees Ali

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The long route of Nancy Pelosi's Tuesday flight over Borneo to Taipei and a U.S. aircraft carrier's complex passage through the South China Sea highlight the difficulties U.S. forces now face against a Chinese military keen to flex its muscles over Taiwan.

U.S. military officials repeatedly talk of "routine" patrols to support a "free and open Indo-Pacific" but the realities are increasingly challenging amid the worst Taiwan tensions since 1996, according to diplomats, military attaches and security analysts.

U.S. officials told Reuters this week they did not want to escalate matters with unnecessarily provocative deployments before House Speaker Pelosi - a staunch China critic and the third most senior U.S. politician - landed in Taipei on Tuesday on a U.S. Air Force plane.

And they are keeping to that approach as the Chinese military launches live firing exercises in waters surrounding, and in some bisecting, Taiwan's territory, they say.