A top U.S. defense official has issued an unusually candid warning that China is developing techniques to virtually cut off rival Taiwan from communications with the rest of the world and is urging Taiwan's leaders do more to safeguard the island's high tech infrastructure.

In an address that received little coverage in the United States, Richard Lawless, the Pentagon's top civilian in charge of Asia and the Pacific told an audience in Arizona that China is actively developing ways to "create chaos" on Taiwan by disrupting the island's communications, including its satellite, internet and cell phone networks.

In unusually blunt language, the senior Pentagon official told a largely Taiwanese-American audience that in the event of war, Beijing's goal would be to paralyze Taiwan's economy by disrupting networks that run everything from the island's military command to public utilities.

"I've seen studies about the Chinese military which does suggest they are developing that kind of capability to neutralize computer command centers in Taiwan should such a conflict break out," said Ramon Myers, a leading China/Taiwan expert at Stanford University's Hoover Institute in California.

Taiwan has one of the most computerized societies in the world. Estimates are that 75 percent of all households have access to computers and much of the island's government and business are highly dependent on them as well.

But in his speech, Mr. Lawless recalled how in 1999, the loss of a single transformer station left thousands of Taiwanese without power for weeks. And, an earthquake that same year left Taiwan dependant for more than a month on a satellite to stay in touch with the outside world. Both were cited as evidence that the island has not done enough to safeguard vital infrastructure, a vulnerability that the Pentagon official says China would actively work to exploit during war.

Mr. Myers warns if the Pentagon is right, China could seize on this vulnerability if Taiwan makes moves toward independence. "This, I think, they are nervous about and to have the United States come up with some sort of information that they better be nervous about this does suggest that the Pentagon thinks it's serious," he said. "But just exactly how the Taiwanese military and the civilians in charge of the military are going to react to this, it's very hard to say."

A Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington did not respond to VOA's request for comment on the allegations made by the Pentagon official.