China is developing the means to electronically blockade rival Taiwan with attacks to the country's vital utilities, the Internet and other communications networks, a high-ranking US defense official has said.
The stern warning was issued by Richard Lawless -- deputy undersecretary of defense -- during a closed-door meeting with business leaders last month in the US. A copy of Lawless' speech was obtained by The Associated Press yesterday under the US Freedom of Information Act.
Lawless cautioned that if a war broke out between Taiwan and China, the first casualties might not be "brave men and women in uniform." He said China might first target things that keep Taiwan's high-tech society running.
"China is actively developing options to create chaos on the island, to compromise components of Taiwan's critical infrastructure: telecommunications, utilities, broadcast media, cellular, Internet and computer networks," Lawless said on Oct. 4 to the US-Taiwan Business Council.
``Taiwan could be electronically blockaded, isolated from the world, creating a kind of perfect storm in which the US could not communicate with Taiwan or Taiwan with the world,'' Lawless said during the council's meeting in the southwestern city of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Lawless said such a strategy could be called an "acupuncture" attack aimed at "the destruction of a national will" with "the insertion of a hundred needles."
Beijing insists that self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is part of China and has repeatedly threatened to attack if the Taiwanese seek a permanent split or delay too long on unification.
Much of the debate over whether China will invade has focused on China's growing arsenal of destroyers, jets, submarines and hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan, just 160km off China's southern coast.
But in recent years, analysts have touted the possibility that China could be developing new high-tech weapons that could give the Chinese an edge over US forces -- which are widely expected to help defend Taiwan.
Lawless said that several recent incidents have exposed vulnerabilities in Taiwan's critical infrastructure and communication systems and that China is aware of these weak spots.
In 1999, the loss of a single transformer station on Taiwan "left thousands without power for weeks," while a massive earthquake the same year "left Taiwan dependent on satellite communications to the outside world for more than a month."
"Many feared China would attempt to take advantage of Taiwan's ill fortune," Lawless said.
Taiwan must do more to safeguard telecommunications, fiber optics, energy supplies and major transportation arteries, and should consider allowing private agencies to assist in national defense, he said.
"Taiwan is one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, but the expertise and wealth of experience that exist in the private sector remains largely untapped," he said.